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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'


Portrait of Wally -★★★

Walburga "Wally" Neuzil, the beloved mistress of provocative Austrian painter Egon Schiele, was kidnapped by Nazis during World War II and, 70 years later, was still struggling to find her home. If this sounds like the plot of a political thriller, you'd be right, except that the woman in question is not Wally herself but her portrait, which was never returned to its rightful owner following the war, and remained in limbo until just two years ago, when a protracted legal fight finally ended.

Portrait of Wally, written and directed by Andrew Shea, follows the chain of evidence leading to the conclusion that the painting is the property of the heirs of the Jewish art dealer from whom it was taken in 1939. Caught in this chain is big-time collector Rudolf Leopold and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which brought the piece to the United States for exhibition in 1997, thus prompting its eventual seizure by the U.S. government as stolen property.

This case was a watershed in the debate over looted art, and this well-produced documentary does introduce some of the larger questions of this debate, such as the role of museums. However, by concentrating primarily on the portrait and keeping its focus frustratingly narrow, it appeals to legal scholars but may become a bit too tedious for the average art lover or historian.

Nicky's Family - ★★★

Just when you thought you'd discovered all the heroes of the Holocaust, along comes Nicholas "Nicky" Winton: He's a World War II veteran, now 103 years old who, prior to joining the Royal Air Force in 1939, hatched a remarkable plan to transport Jewish children from Czechoslovakia to foster homes in England. His efforts saved more than 600 boys and girls destined for concentration camps.

Slovak writer and director Matej Minac has told Winton's story twice before, both in documentary and non-doc formats, but never quite like in Nicky's Family. This 2011 documentary focuses not just on the lives of the children before, during and after the war, but also on the lives of everyone their stories have since touched, including that of Winton himself. The result is an interesting historical document and a good illustration of the ripples-in-the-pond metaphor.

"I have a motto that if something isn't blatantly impossible, there must be a way of doing it," Winton proclaimed. Despite that attitude, for 50 years he never realized quite what he had done. Even the children he helped knew nothing of the "British Schindler" until his wife uncovered documents in their attic in 1988 and shared her husband's story.

Despite its clunky reenactments, awkward voiceovers and heavy-handed scoring, the film works because of its story. It may not always know how to say what it's trying to, but you'd be a cynical soul indeed if you completely resisted the emotional grip of Nicky's narrative.

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