If Instagram is anything to go by (read: it’s not), anyone can make a short film — just slap a filter on it and call it a day! Thankfully, the protagonists in Anywhere Else and Swim Little Fish Swim, two films featured in the 38th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, work on creative projects that can pull their own weight — sans filters — even if the length exceeds 15 seconds from the sidelines. Short DIY clips, not integral to the plotlines, are interspersed throughout of each film and are a breath of fresh air, even if the overall film itself is a hit or a miss.
If you’re lucky enough to call yourself multilingual, you may have noticed that your personality seems to change when you speak in a different language (level of inebriation aside). With all these factors in mind, the odds of being misunderstood by others increase. This very notion permeates Anywhere Else, Ester Amrami’s first film — literally, as Noa (Neta Riskin), an Israeli graduate student in Berlin, gets her video project (documenting explanations of rich, untranslatable words in foreign languages) shot down by her advisor.
Viewers, intrigued by linguistics or not, will have no trouble following the intricacies that accompany dialogue in the film, whether it’s in German, Hebrew, Yiddish, or English. At the same time, Noa unsuccessfully yearns for the security of “home” in both Germany and Israel. An impromptu trip back to Israel doesn’t help much, especially when her boyfriend Jörg (Golo Euler) visits. The film also tackles weighty issues such as disapproval of Noa and Jörg’s relationship (Noa’s grandmother lost her entire family in the Holocaust) and Noa’s brother’s unease about being a member of the Israeli army.
Contrary to what Noa’s advisor thinks, untranslatable words are perfectly fine — who’s to say that the simple word “home” is sufficient enough to express the complex feeling of belonging? Anywhere Else ultimately and sentimentally proves that complicated problems don’t need complicated solutions.
At first glance, it’s a bit comforting to see that neither Swim Little Fish Swim's Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa) nor Lilas (Lola Bessis) have been hardened by the cynical realities of adult life. Leeward is a stay-at-home dad who entertains himself by jamming out on his toddler’s toys, while Lilas is a budding French artist on the brink of her twenties who crashes on Leeward’s couch in the dwindling days before her visa expires. While it initially seems as though Leeward still looks at the world in childlike wonder, the rose-colored glasses quickly shatter, and he becomes a hopelessly useless, naïve man and by far, the most annoying character in the film. The only thing his wife Mary (Brooke Bloom) can count on him to do is shirk his financial responsibilities.
All in all, the sickeningly saccharine film is far too twee, distracting the viewer when Leeward and Lilas finally encounter adult life’s setbacks head-on. It’s stereotypically cute: The film is set in New York, Leeward insists on the hipster kid name “Rainbow” for his daughter instead of “Maggie,” Lilas totes around an old film camera that must be twice her age to record her new friends’ seemingly profound confessions, and Leeward struggles to avoid selling out as a musician. However, if you can muster through all of that, the Swim's ending is moderately satisfying, even if it is somewhat predictable.
SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
July 24-Aug. 10, most shows $10-$14
Various Bay Area venues