The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival ends Sunday, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still have a chance to see some highlights from the collection in theaters. The following are showing at Oakland’s Piedmont Theatre this coming Friday through Sunday, as specified below.
“Give Me Liberty” (Friday, 6:20 p.m.)
À la “Ulysses,” “Give Me Liberty” takes place over the course of a single day. But, unlike the everyday, the film is far from mundane. The film follows Russian transplant Vic (Chris Galust), a medical transport driver in chilly Milwaukee, on his daily rounds. Writer-director Kirill Mikhanovsky’s own experience as an immigrant in the same line of work as Vic informs his molding of the narrative, allowing this film a rare sense of authenticity. Mikhanovsky renders each character in stunning color, from Vic’s unwieldy Russian community (think: grandfather, played by Arkady Basin, who keeps almost burning the house down) to his downtrodden yet authoritative patients (wheelchair-bound young Black woman Tracy, portrayed by Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, stands out). This is a tragicomedy that holds up a community fractured by racial, ability-related and economic divides to the light for all to see — and manages to elicit friendly chuckles while doing so.
“Shut Up and Play the Piano” (Friday, 8:45 p.m.)
From director Philipp Jedicke, “Shut Up and Play the Piano” chronicles the strange and raucous life of Canadian electronic musician Chilly Gonzales, whose career has spanned decades, genres and personae. Through archival video and interviews with collaborators, Jedicke sketches Gonzales — portrayed by the megalomaniacal stage presence of Jason Beck — in a fast-paced light, from his beginnings as a classical pianist to his time in the underground scene of Berlin. Gonzales is a fascinating character, and “Shut Up and Play” provides space for an interesting meditation on the ways in which performance and person intersect onstage and off — buoyed throughout by the film’s subject’s intensity and flamboyance.
“Seder-Masochism” (Saturday, 8:45 p.m.)
“Seder-Masochism” is everything you didn’t know you needed. An animated interpretation of the Book of Exodus set to danceable tunes like “This Land is Mine”? Check. Biblical fathers worshipping omnipotent, Venus of Willendorf-esque mother goddesses? Check. A talking goat voiced by the director, whose father also plays a central role, and groundbreaking animation of embroidery (“embroidermation”)? Check, check, check. Created by Jewish American cartoonist and animator Nina Paley, this film is confidently quirky and zany in just the right charming, hilarious ways. Also, it’s just plain fun to see your favorite ancient Mesopotamian stone-carved queen shake her hips.
“What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael” (Sunday, 4:05 p.m.)
Pauline Kael is a name that every film critic worth their salt should know. The UC Berkeley graduate carved out her own contrarian niche in the field, her biting and deeply personal criticisms appearing regularly in the New Yorker throughout the late 20th century. Rob Garver crafts “What She Said” with painstaking detail, weaving together bits and pieces of footage of Kael herself voicing her otherwise written opinions and appearing on talk shows. Among these, he intersperses clips of films and directors that Kael lambasted or propelled to renown (Quentin Tarantino, Paul Schrader, Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola among them) to create an indelible portrait of the writer throughout her storied life and career.
“Cooked: Survival by Zip Code” (Saturday, 11:45 a.m.)
“Cooked” isn’t the sort of mind-numbing entertainment one might turn to after a long and draining day in the office. The investigative documentary from Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand brings to the forefront and validates the national creeping dread of changing climates and reminds us whom rising temperatures will impact, and already have impacted, the most. The film finds its grounding in the devastation of 1995 Chicago and the 739 heat-related deaths — mostly, as the film points out, of Black and low-income workers — it caused. Helfland ultimately advances a compelling argument for the inclusion of factors of privilege and race, in addition to discussion of fires and floods, into how we as a society define disaster. The growing climate crisis will not affect us all equally, and “Cooked” demands that we acknowledge this fact and move forward accordingly.
“How About Adolf?” (Sunday, 8:50 p.m.)
In German, there’s a word for the country’s reckoning with a history of genocide and mass destruction: Vergangenheitsbewältigung. It’s fitting for at least one film in a festival celebrating and reflecting on Jewish identity to address this coming to terms, and Sönke Wortmann’s “How About Adolf?” is precisely such a pick. Wortmann imbues the characteristically grave material with splashes of lighthearted comedy, setting the film up against the premise of a family dinner gathering. It’s here that Thomas (Florian David Fitz) and his girlfriend (Janina Uhse) announce their intentions to name their unborn son Adolf, causing a devolution into petty argument and the dragging of dusty skeletons from the closet. “How About Adolf?” is, at its heart, a comedy, and it doesn’t provide any answers for large and looming questions of the ghosts of history — but it’s nuanced in its consideration of how far it’s OK to take a joke and the (surprisingly hilarious) appeals of forbidden fruit.