`Lost Luggage' opens annual Jewish Film Festival

Film: The festival opens tomorrow night at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts.

March 23, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Chaja refuses to live in the past, even if her family and employer seem firmly stuck there.

Director Jeroen Krabbe's "Left Luggage," tomorrow's opening night feature of the 13th annual Baltimore Jewish Film Festival, centers on Chaja's struggle to remain true to a faith that to her has everything to do with past wrongs and little to do with today.

She's a philosophy student in the early '70s, a time when free love, free thinking and free association have become the bywords of her generation. How well they'll fit into her life, however, is the issue.

Her father, played with equal parts dissociation and determination by Maximilian Schell, is obsessed with finding the suitcases he buried at the height of World War II - suitcases that contain his family's fortune. And her employers, a family of Hasidic Jews, remain tied to traditions and morals that date back centuries.

Is there a place for Chaja in all this?

The answer may surprise some moviegoers - as will this film, a thoughtful but by no means somber look at an issue that Jews throughout the world continue to wrestle with.

Laura Fraser stars as Chaja, and she strikes just the right note between being a free spirit determined to live in the now and showing proper respect for her religious traditions - a respect shown more through her thoughts than her actions. In truth, she's more pious and respectful than she realizes.

"Left Luggage" also stars Krabbe and Isabella Rossellini as the Kalmans, the Hasidic couple who hire Chaja as a nanny for their three boys. Chaja's relationship with the Kalmans has its moments - especially her interaction with Mr. Kalman, who in keeping with the dictates of his religion refers to her as a wanton woman because she wears short skirts, and who refuses to address her directly.

But the film's central relationship is between Chaja and 5-year-old Simcha, the troubled youngest Kalman. His parents and siblings think there's something wrong with him because he never talks and still wears diapers. But Chaja suspects there's a regular little boy somewhere inside, struggling to get out. It's through her relationship with Simcha, and her grudging, growing respect for the Kalmans and the old ways they adhere so strongly to, that Chaja emerges from "Lost Luggage" as a better woman.

With its mainstream cast - including Chaim Topol ("Fiddler on the Roof") as the wizened town elder, Mr. Apfelschnitt - and both heart-warming and heart-breaking story, "Left Luggage" gets the 2001 festival off to a crowd-pleasing start.

Those who can't make tomorrow's 8:30 p.m. screening can catch the film at its encore showing, set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Other films scheduled for the three-week festival are:

"The Flying Camel" (3 p.m. Sunday), a comedy about a Tel-Aviv architecture professor's efforts to preserve local art and artifacts, and the unexpected help he receives.

"American Lives: Jewish Stories" (7:30 p.m. March 29), a video rumination on what it means to be Jewish in America.

"All My Loved Ones" (8:30 p.m. March 31), the story of a Jewish family caught in the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia. The film celebrates the life-saving efforts of Englishman Nicholas Winton, whose efforts kept alive hundreds of Jewish children during World War II - including director Matej Minac's mother.

"Paragraph 175" (7:30 p.m. April 2), a look at the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, from documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ("The Celluloid Closet").

"Simon Magus" (7:30 p.m. April 4), which tracks the efforts of a 19th-century Christian businessman to oust the Jewish population from his town - with the aid of a socially outcast Jewish man tired of being shunned by his neighbors.

"If I Lie" (7:30 p.m. April 10), a romantic comedy set in the Parisian garment district.

"Kippur" (7:30 p.m. April 12), the story of a helicopter rescue team during the 1973 Yom Kippur War from director Amos Gitai ("Kadosh").

Films will be shown at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., except for "American Lives: Jewish Stories," which will be shown at the adjacent Rosenbloom Owings Mills Jewish Community Center's Adalman Auditorium.

Tickets for each film cost $6. For information, call 410-542-4900, ext. 239.

Sundance Sunday

"Me and the Moilsies," a 20-minute comic-drama about a Hasidic youth gang set on the New Jersey shore in the 1950s, is among a series of short films from the 2001 Sundance Film Festival being shown this weekend at Cinema Sundays. "Moilsies" director Justin Schwarz will introduce and discuss his film.

Sunday's offerings also include "Boundaries," winner of the festival's Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film, and "Here," starring Lee Majors - best known as TV's "Six Million Dollar Man," and Farrah Fawcett's ex.

Tickets for the 10:30 a.m. showing cost $15 and include bagels and coffee. Doors open at 9:45 a.m. For information, cal 410-727-3464, or check the Web site www.cinemasundays.com.

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