Israel has its fair share of corrupt, charismatic religious leaders. But sometimes, Avi Nesher told an audience in Westfield on Nov. 3, behind their charlatanism is actually a genuine talent.
Nesher, one of Israel’s leading film directors, said his movie The Wonders (Pla’ot), was based on the true story of one of those religious cult figures, “who actually turned out to have something special.”
Despite the sometimes dubious past of the rabbi at the center of the plot, Nesher was relieved when a disgruntled former devotee, after seeing The Wonders and its forgiving portrayal of the man, decided not to go ahead with the expose she had planned to publish. “She came up to me at the screening and said she had decided to just let it go,” Nesher recalled.
Nesher spoke to the audience at the Digiplex Rialto Theater after the Nov. 3 screening of The Wonders, the third of five works featured in the 10th anniversary Jewish Film Festival hosted by the JCC of Central New Jersey.
His film, a comedic thriller, follows the efforts of a goofy graffiti artist/bartender to free a rabbi who claims to foretell the future and appears to have been kidnapped. The noirish mystery plays out against the background of a gritty, back-alley Jerusalem and stars Adir Miller, a popular Israeli stand-up comic and TV writer.
Most of Nesher’s movies, those made in Israel and the United States, have been thrillers of a kind. “I love the mystery form,” he said, “but mine don’t end in neat, predictable ways.” True to form, The Wonders ends up encouraging faith even in the skeptical.
Two more films will be screened at the Rialto, completing the first part of the festival.
Cupcakes, the winner of Best Comedy at the 2014 LA Jewish Film Festival, is a musical comedy about a group of young neighbors in Tel Aviv who get together to watch a television song contest. On an impulse, they compose their own song, and enter it in next year’s contest.
The Jewish Cardinal tells the true story of Jean-Marie Lustiger, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who maintained his cultural identity as a Jew after converting to Catholicism, joining the priesthood and — in 1981 — being appointed archbishop of Paris by Pope John Paul II.
The second half of the anniversary celebration will present another five films from late April through early May. The details will be available on the JCC website early in 2015.