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Film & DVD

Central Florida Jewish Film Festival

Jewish culture returns to the Enzian for the 14th annual festival

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'Foreign Letters'

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'Portrait of Wally'

The most popular of Enzian's two-day special events, the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival, celebrates its 14th – and post-Bar Mitzvah year, if you will – with the film and food its patrons have come to expect. With two documentaries and two dramas, the balance seems about right this time, and while not every film is a winner, all four are good fits.

"The two narratives [Foreign Letters and Mabul] kind of open and close the festival, and they're both very different coming-of-age films," says Matthew Curtis, Enzian's programming director. "One's the immigration experience, and one is a really dysfunctional family and growing pains."

Curtis says he and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando, which co-presents the festival, also try to strike a balance among languages, countries of origin and even cultures.

"We've never done the whole thing all Israeli films or anything," he explains. "We look at about 60 to 70 features, docs and shorts to come up with the four films. We will never do, you know, four films from France, or four American films or four Israeli films, [and] all of the films might be of particular interest to the Jewish community here, but we try to show films that also appeal to everyone [and] have universal themes of heroism, family, love."

The festival runs December 2-3 (instead of opening on the customary Saturday, this festival honors the Sabbath by getting underway on Sunday) and offers three payment options. If you have time for just one movie, consider Mabul on Monday at 7 p.m., which will, like the other three films, cost you $10. If you're planning to see all four, the Series Pass ($35) will save you a few bucks and get you second-priority seating. But to experience the festival in style, go for the Mensch Pass for $60 and enjoy first-priority seating.

Regardless of your choice, religion or ethnicity, the festival offers value to just about every moviegoer, despite the fact that the filmmakers will not be in attendance this year. So check out the accompanying reviews for more details, and don't forget to stop by Eden Bar for some tasty potato latkes or a Hebrew National hot dog.

Foreign Letters - ★★

This is the Florida premiere of an American film about a 12-year-old girl adjusting to a new school and a new life outside her native Israel. The Hebrew-English-Vietnamese production, tells the tale of Ellie, played lovingly by Noa Rotstein, and her struggles to fit in with her peers, learn a new language and find a new best friend.

At first, Ellie's emotional world revolves around her family, who left Israel so Ellie's father could avoid fighting in the 1982 Lebanon War. Ellie soon finds a kindred spirit in a Vietnamese classmate who feels equally alone, and they both end up learning lessons of loyalty and trust. Written and directed by Ela Thier, who not only bases the story on her own experiences as a little girl, Letters is touching and occasionally funny, but drifts too often toward a contrived predictability. Perhaps Thier was just a bit too close to the project to pull it off, as its sweetness can't overcome the poor pacing and emotional punch that fails to land.

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