Washington Jewish Film Festival and Capital Irish Film Festival come to town

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 10, 2009

Washington filmgoers are spoiled for choice this week, as not one but two local film festivals offer enticing alternatives to multiplex fare. The Washington Jewish Film Festival, celebrating its 20th year, Thursday night screens "Jump," Joshua Sinclair's film about the early life of Philippe Halsman.

If that name doesn't ring a bell, perhaps you remember that postcard featuring a surreal shot of Richard Nixon jumping. The photograph was taken by Halsman, who in addition to his oeuvre of everyone from Albert Einstein to Marilyn Monroe jumping, earned the distinction of taking more than 100 photographs that wound up as covers for Life magazine.

"Jump!" alludes to Halsman's signature photographs in early, awkwardly staged scenes in which the photographer (played by Ben Silverstone) shoots a nervous Marilyn Monroe at his New York studio in the Chrysler Building. But the film is really about Halsman's extraordinary story before he came to America, when as a young man he was tried in Austria for the murder of his father. The harrowing 1928 episode brought the 22-year-old Jewish Halsman face to face with a criminal justice system influenced by the nascent Nazi movement, and made him one of its earliest victims, until he was pardoned and escaped Europe just before the war.

If Sinclair veers uneasily between realism and heightened theatricality in "Jump," he deserves credit for bringing this story to light. And Patrick Swayze fans surely won't want to miss the late actor in one of his last film roles. Swayze plays Halsman's by turns fiery and level-headed attorney, Richard Pressburger -- who also happened to be a former boxer, making him a perfect fit with Swayze's taut, powerful physicality.

Swayze was never hailed as an actor for his technical thespian skills; it was his presence admirers adored, and it's his presence that makes his passionate courtroom speeches such a bittersweet joy to watch. Like the Michael Jackson documentary "This Is It," fans will walk away from "Jump" reassured that, even toward the end, Swayze still had it.

The Irish arts organization Solas Nua launches its annual Capital Irish Film Festival on Thursday, with a screening of "The Eclipse." The film, which will open in theaters next year, stars Ciarán Hinds, Aidan Quinn and Iben Hjejle (remember how terrific she was in "High Fidelity"?) in a by turns spooky, romantic, funny and sad story set at a literary conference in the charming seaside town of Cobh (pronounced "Cove," actually). Writer-director Conor McPherson masterfully calibrates some pretty wild tonal shifts in this beautifully realized film, which resembles a New Yorker short story in its quiet, closely observed sense of detail. "The Eclipse" is like a little getaway in its own right, taking viewers to new worlds both natural and supernatural.

If you miss "The Eclipse" you can catch up with it when it comes back; but fans of the wonderfully fecund Irish film culture will want to make sure to see "Garage," Lenny Abrahamson's portrait of small town life at its most gentle and cruel, on Friday night. Pat Shortt delivers a galvanizing performance as the somewhat dim Josie, who spends cheerfully routine days working at his town's gas station and visiting the pub. When a newcomer arrives on the scene, Josie begins to change his life in tiny ways that will have grave repercussions; "Garage" doesn't tell a story as much as deliver a vivid and compassionate character study, in this case of one of life's marginal figures, who longs to join the fray around him.

The Washington Jewish Film Festival runs through Sunday.

The Capital Irish Film Festival runs through Dec. 20.


(119 minutes) will be shown Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater, 1529 16th St. NW. It will be shown again at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. Admission $11 (seniors and students $10). Visit http://www.wjff.org or call 202-777-3231.

The Eclipse

(88 minutes) will be shown Thursday at 8 p.m. at Landmark's E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. $10.


(85 minutes) will be shown Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Goethe Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW. $10. Visit http://www.irishfilmdc.org or call 202-315-1317.

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