Jewish film fest starts in a `Wondrous' way

April 01, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The eager way a glittery-eyed kid at a South London synagogue tries to lure our cricket-loving hero to a study group by saying they'll be talking about sex; the moment his German-Jewish mother blurts out her bond with her new Jamaican neighbors because she, too, is an immigrant. These casual revelations from Wondrous Oblivion, tomorrow's kick-off presentation of Baltimore's Jewish Film Festival, epitomize the off-hand humor and insight to be gained from intimate depictions of a subculture - one of this festival's specialties.

The JFF has always favored quality over quantity, and this year it's spread eight features over 2 1/2 weeks. Wondrous Oblivion, the tale of a Jewish 11-year-old's friendship with the Jamaican cricket maven next door, is another of the JFF's opening-night delights.

Delroy Lindo plays Dennis, the loving West Indian husband and father of two daughters who marks his entrance into a previously lily-white neighborhood by setting up a cricket net. Lindo is, as always, wonderful - what a face he has for the movies! His long, broad features are elastically expressive. And when he instructs his older daughter Judy (Leonie Elliott) and his young Jewish neighbor David (Sam Smith) in cricket as a sport with "significant form" or "style," he makes his muscular body seem as light as a greyhound's. His performance is its own essay on the joy of teaching - of gaining strength by giving it.

The movie isn't only about the hesitant bond between David's and Dennis' families amid an onslaught of racial and ethnic pressures. Set in 1960 and scored to a pop soundtrack alight with ska, it's mostly about intangibles - the new possibilities that emerge when subcultures intersect and respect each other. Emily Woof is phenomenal as David's young mother, Ruth, who in Dennis finds the energy and warmth that's drained away from her workaholic Polish-Jewish husband (Stanley Townsend).

As David, Smith gains in stature as his character grows in confidence and his dilemmas increase in complication. David shuts Judy out of a birthday party his mom throws for his prep-school friends (who like him for his newfound skill with cricket). Guilt and self-doubt flicker in Smith's eyes until David finally sets things right. Among other things, the movie provides a welcome lesson in how to deliver an unqualified apology.

Wondrous Oblivion screens tomorrow night at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills. Erik Zakim, professor of modern Hebrew literature and Jewish studies at the University of Maryland, will discuss the movie afterward.

Festival screenings often sell out, so check ahead. Tickets, $8, are available at the Weinberg Park Heights Jewish Community Center, at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills Jewish Community Center, and at www.balti morejff.com. For more information, contact Claudine Davison at 410-542-4900, ext. 239.

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