Jewish Film, 1990-Present

A survey of recent American and International Jewish cinema.

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Ben Stiller played a rabbi competing with Edward Norton's Catholic priest for the affections of a free-spirited woman in Keeping the Faith (2000, directed by Norton), and the indie film Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, was about an uptight Jewish professional woman finding companionship in the arms of a non-Jewish woman. Christopher Guest's inside-Hollywood satire For Your Consideration (2006) featured a film within the film called Home for Purim, in which a 1950s Southern Jewish matron confronted her daughter's homosexuality, studded with laughable dialogue and wooden performances.

Judaism became a regular presence in mainstream American film, dependable for a few good laughs or a tug at nostalgic heartstrings. Even the big-budget animated film Prince of Egypt (Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells, 1998) adapted the biblical story of Moses' early years for a mass audience.

Woody Allen

As always, Woody Allen's films concentrated on a certain subset of upper-middle-class life in contemporary Manhattan, along with semi-nostalgic looks at the Brooklyn of the postwar era. Allen's unflagging pace (18 films since 1990) made for significant fluctuations in quality, but Deconstructing Harry (1997) was a career highlight. A brilliant meta-fiction, loosely adapted from Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, Harry also made use of the best filthy joke about religious Jews ever.

Most of Allen's output in the post-1990 era was less consistently wonderful, but films like Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), and Match Point (2005) retained enough of Allen's legendary comic charm and dramatic insight to please.

French Film

A number of significant Jewish-themed films emerged from France during the 1990s and early 2000s. Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine (1995), a film that has grown prescient in the last few years of banlieue unrest, features one Jewish youth among its triumvirate of angry working-class young men battling the law in the rough suburbs of Paris. Jewish himself, Kassovitz grasps the nature of French life at the margins, offering a look at French Jews remarkably different from the stereotypes.

La Petite Jerusalem (2005), directed by Karin Albou, similarly took place in a Paris light-years away from the tourist City of Lights, and was something of a companion piece to La Haine, concerning a young Orthodox woman attracted to secular philosophy, and the world at large. Like La Haine, La Petite Jerusalem was a glimpse at France from the outside in--with Jews firmly barred from the center of French society and culture. Retreating to the start of a previous century, Arnaud Desplechin's critically acclaimed Esther Kahn (2000) starred Rain Phoenix as an impoverished Jewish naïf who struggles her way to acclaim on the French stage.

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Saul Austerlitz

Saul Austerlitz is a writer and film critic in New York.