Sin La Habana

Closing out the UK Jewish Film Festival is Sin La Habana, which is a funny coincidence with all the Cuban movies I’ve been watching with Havana Glasgow. Sin La Habana is about a Cuban ballet dancer who makes a plan to get him and his girl out the country.

The opening scene is of Leo getting a Santeria blessing for good luck so that he might get the part of Romeo in the upcoming production of Havana’s ballet company. They are going on a worldwide tour, and Leo desperately wants to get out of the country, and start a new life with his girlfriend, Sara. All the good advice he gets from the Orisha, they tell him, “You must improve your character and be more equanimous”, he then soundly ignores, leading to his journey in the film to go astray.

When the company post the parts for the production, he is given the part of Prince of Verona, instead of the lead, Romeo. He is enraged, marches into the director’s office, demanding to know why he’s not the lead when he is the best dancer. Now, if he’d even stopped there, he might have still been ok, but when the director tells him that he might be the best dancer, but his attitude stinks, he’s entitled, he’s arrogant, and just like this right here, he doesn’t take instruction and work together with the ensemble, always charging in like he is a soloist, Leo doesn’t take the criticism well. He calls the director a racist, and is promptly fired.

So he and Sara come up with another plan. He starts teaching samba to tourists, where he meets Nasim, a Jewish Iranian-Canadian. They decide he will seduce Nasim, get her to bring him to Canada, where he will marry her, and arrange for Sara to come after. Sara is not precious about sexual fidelity, but tells him not to look Nasim in the eyes when he has sex with her, this one intimacy being the bulwark against genuine love.

Everything goes to plan at first, but once Leo is in Canada, he feels totally lost. He finds it difficult to practice Santeria, casting offerings into frozen rivers. His auditions for dance companies don’t meet with the immediate success he was expecting, and he frequently finds the encounters humiliating. The only other Cuban he meets in Montreal manages to get him a job in a fish factory, earning dogshit wages.

He is desperate to see Sara again, so goes in debt to pay his Cuban-Canadian mate to marry her and bring her back. Meanwhile, his relationship with Nasim is not as straightforward as he thought. Her father is a racist who doesn’t even want Leo in his house, and tells Nasim she should have stayed with her physically abusive ex-husband. Nasim doesn’t really understand anything about Santeria customs and he doesn’t really understand anything about Jewish customs. She half-knows he’s using her, but enjoys their relationship too much to really let herself think about it.

The whole story is one of self-sabotage, miscommunication, and disconnection. Leo’s dream is closest at the beginning of the film, and if he’d just played the Prince of Verona, he might have achieved his goals without much complication. But the path he follows is nothing but complication, and with every step it seems to pull the relationship he values most out of alignment.

I didn’t like some of the directorial choices. When the film tries to be stylistic, it comes off as affected and jarring, kinda takes you out of the flow of the story. Actually, when the focus is on just telling the beats of the story, it’s much better, giving the performances room. In fact, some of the most beautiful shots in the film are the ones where the director does the least, allowing them to speak for themselves.

The performances are all strong. I really like the guy who plays Leo, Yonah Acosta Gonzalez, because fundamentally the character is an asshole, and it’s hard to make that sympathetic. He doesn’t try to distract and overcompensate by making the character charismatic or bombastic. He also doesn’t let him off the hook by acting like he’s some poverty-stricken soul desperately trying to make it in any way to a better life. Leo’s life in Havana is pretty sweet, with the love of a beautiful woman, doing what he loves for a living by dancing, with his mother lovingly supporting him. He isn’t in some terrible situation that justifies hurting Nasim to get out. He’s selfish, he’s arrogant, he’s the cause of a lot of his own problems. So it’s amazing that Yonah manages to make him sympathetic. He looks lost, he looks vulnerable, he looks disappointed when he can’t understand what he’s doing wrong to thwart all his plans. He does come to care for Nasim, and is angry when he sees she doesn’t have the kind of support from her family that he has always received from his. The Havana dance director fires him, telling him he has no humility, and this whole journey is humbling for him. He just gets more and more lost and confused. Yonah really manages to capture the audience’s empathy, without altering the reality of the character’s flaws.

Sin La Habana is interesting because in a lot of the Cuban documentaries I just watched, they can barely convince people to move a town over, people in Cuba have a really strong connection to the place they’re from, and people in Havana love it fiercely. Leo is desperate to leave, but once he does, he’s adrift in Canada, unable to do the things he considers integral to his identity, like dance and practice Santeria. In Havana, he knows who he is. Without it, he feels lost.

A solid film, which despite some distracting stylistic flourishes, manages to take you on a really interesting character journey.

If you like this…

Kings Of Capitol Hill

Wow. That was amazing.

In a fortnight of watching some really excellent documentaries, this one is something else. I highly recommend you watch it.

Kings of Capitol Hill is about the powerful Washington lobbying group AIPAC, which stands for American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Its job is to ensure the US supports policies that favour Israel, and lobbies lawmakers to get them onside. They are formidable, and are seen as having the ability to make or break politicians.

For the whole of my lifetime, AIPAC has been synonymous with a juggernaut of lobbyist power, and why you’ll never get America to do anything about Israel, in a reigning in sense. So it was really interesting for me to see the founders of AIPAC were actually all a bunch of hippies. This documentary interviews prominent AIPAC office holders from its inception through to 2016. So you really get to see how a well-meaning project designed to protect Jewish lives in the Middle East became a runaway nightmare, monstrous to the people who created it.

AIPAC was originally founded by young activists who been involved in the civil rights movement, in the opposition to the Vietnam War, and other causes for peace and justice. They were concerned that Israel, a state in its infancy at the time, and the people who lived there, including many survivors of the Shoah, were going to be wiped out in a co-ordinated attack by its surrounding countries, like in the 6-Day War. They felt a responsibility as American Jews to do what they could to protect Jewish lives.

Something which started out with a handful of people grew and grew, and eventually reached a point where they were pretty successful in reaching politicians of either party in every state. An early test of their strength was when Senator Charles Percy, a Republican, began to question the amount of aid that was consistently being sent to Israel. Like many Republicans, Percy wasn’t a fan of foreign aid, seeing it as sending American tax dollars abroad, and while I doubt he and I probably couldn’t have less in common, I have to agree he makes a fair point about $3 billion dollars being spent annually on Israel without scrutiny, when you couldn’t spend $3 billion dollars domestically without scrutiny. Now, the guy wasn’t anti-Israel, he wasn’t saying Israel shouldn’t be recognised as a state or some shit. He wasn’t even saying let’s dial back the aid we send to Israel or stop sending it altogether. No, he was saying there isn’t sufficient scrutiny of what we’re sending and why we’re sending it, and for every dollar of foreign aid fought over, debate on this topic is silent, and that’s not a good thing when flinging around billions of dollars. And they canned his ass. I mean, there are lots of reasons not to vote Republican, but AIPAC actively supported his ousting in favour of his more vocally pro-Israel opponent, and it was seen both by politicians and within AIPAC as a show of their might.

And that blind loyalty, and smashing of even calls for discussion on the subject, is how we got here. Because when the 70s became the 80s, and Reagan rose to power, the makeup of AIPAC’s rank and file flipped from being hippie Democrats to being staunchly Republican. The more Reagan emphasised Israel as a key player in his militaristic outlook on the Middle East, the more the view shifted from Israel needs America for its safety and security to American needs Israel for its safety and security. Thus support for Israel became a nationalistic duty, and any failure to commit to it fully was a treachery.

All the old hippies got fired. Executive Director Dine went on record for his support for a Palestinian state, and was promptly given his pink slip. And I don’t think they’d really realised up until that point what a political weapon they’d created. But now it was in the hands of a bunch of hardened neocons.

And then you get the peace process in the 90s. And as one former AIPAC officer puts it, “AIPAC wants peace like Yasser Arafat wants a bar mitzvah.” Because there’s no money in peace. During the Oslo Accords, donations to AIPAC tanked. Because who needs a lobby to protect Israel from its enemies, if Israel makes peace with its enemies?

And even though AIPAC bills itself as bipartisan, that obviously doesn’t seem to extend to Israeli politics, because when the left gets in, when anyone committed to peace gets in, AIPAC’s objectives remain right-wing with an emphasis on military solutions. So even during the Oslo negotiations, AIPAC actively undermined them by lobbying for limitations on what money could be spent in Palestine or on Palestinians. They did their best to narrow the wiggle-room America had during talks, and ensure that all Palestinian engagement was viewed with skepticism and distrust.

Then Rabin gets shot dead by an Israeli right-winger, and the Israeli right-wing comes to power, the Oslo Accords go in the bin, and AIPAC is back in its comfort zone. So what you have in AIPAC is two right-wing blocs coming together, feeding on each other’s fear and paranoia, spurring each other further and further right.

Until eventually, you get Trump. And here we have the situation where a leader of the extreme far-right, who is supported by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKK, and antisemites of every stripe, is being supported by AIPAC. And for a lot of people still inside AIPAC at that time, that was a real wake-up call. How can we possibly have drifted into the situation where a Jewish lobbying group who was founded to protect Jewish lives is now supporting the candidate of antisemites and holocaust-deniers?

The people who founded AIPAC look on in horror, feeling like they’ve wandered into a Kafkaesque nightmare, where it’s like a bad joke. You have the biggest antisemitic attack in American history happening during Trump’s presidency, and there’s not a peep. Netanyahu made a statement of offering sanctuary to France’s Jews when hate crimes there rose slightly, but said nada about evaccing residents of Pittsburg after the massacre in a synagogue there. You’ve got an American-Israeli Jewish advocacy group supporting an American president who oversees, or arguably even incites, rising violence against Jews, and Israeli Prime Minister who turns a blind eye to it.

And Trump also put a lot of fear in America’s Jewish community for just the basic fact he was not a massive fan of democracy. He actively undermined democratic processes and norms, that were put in place to protect against a totalitarian regime. So suddenly after all these years of focusing outwardly on sustaining the democracy of Israel, American Jews start to realise that they’ve neglected their vigilance on the democracy of the USA.

So yeah, that’s where we are. And hopefully the tide is turning on AIPAC, and young activists are beginning to rise up against it. But holy shit, that is some journey.

Honestly, you need to watch this documentary. So interesting, what I’ve mentioned here is little more than the timeline it follows, there is so much more packed into the actual film. Including spying, the FBI, and backroom deals, the whole shebang. Highly, highly recommended.

Neighbours

I fell in love with the very first shot. The cinematography is so gorgeous, I was like, literally wherever this movie goes, I am in.

Neighbours tells the story of Sero’s first year of school. Set in Syria in the 80s, Sero is a 6-years-old Kurdish boy. We see the world through his eyes, as his whole world is his village, and his greatest wish is to get a tv to watch cartoons on.

The land he lives on was divided in his grandfather’s time by the English and French, and is now seperated into Syria and Turkey. Despite the fact they are close enough to see the Turkish border, they can’t get there to visit his mother’s family, who were on the wrong side when the border went up. Both states are virulently nationalistic, which leaves the stateless Kurds as a problem viewed with suspicion. Even when there is an annual holiday that allows relatives to speak across the barbed wire fence at the border, the guard orders, “Speak Arabic!” On the Turkish side they scream, “Speak Turkish!” Sero’s mother and grandmother speak neither language, and the absurdity is obvious to a child’s eyes.

A new teacher arrives at the village, aghast at what a backwater he’s been relegated to, and the obvious lack of nationalist enthusiasm from the residents. A Baathist zealot, he sets about posting photos of Asad everywhere, playing his speeches, and planting a palm tree in the playground. The palm tree is a symbol of Arab identity, and the teacher has a full-grown tree brought from the south to plant like a flag defiantly in this Kurdish village. “The palm tree grows everywhere on Arab soil,” he states proudly. Sero’s grandfather regards him, “It won’t survive our winter”.

The Baathist propaganda the teacher promotes is also viciously antisemitic. Opposed to the creation of the state of Israel on Palestinian land, all Jews become blamed as responsible, and viewed with suspicion by the regime. Jewish Syrians are stripped of their nationality, which effectively makes them non-persons in their own country, but also stops them from being able to apply for a passport to leave.

Sero’s next door neighbours are a Jewish family. They are as good as an extended family, with Sero as at home in their house as in his own. He comes over every Sabbath to light their lamps and stove in the evening. Their daughter Hannah is clearly in love with Sero’s uncle Alam. They stand sighing at each other across the garden wall.

The film begins by following the adventures of an ordinary 6-year-old. Seeing how high up a post he and his pals can pee. Making pictures with the set of paints Hannah gets him. Releasing balloons with the Kurdish colours near the border to bam up the soldiers, who machine-gun them.

The hardness of the world starts to creep in the edges of his innocence. The balloons are a good example. The children mull over their teacher’s rants, trying to figure our what Zionism and Imperialism are. His mate says they are two different kinds of scorpion, and he caught them once in a jar behind his outhouse. When the teacher asks how they are going to defeat the Jews, one kid suggests beating them at football.

Soon the darkness pushes further and further into Sero’s world. His teacher’s tales of Jews killing little children to use their blood in rituals, makes him hesitant to go next door to light lamps on Sabbath. Tragedy befalls the family, and his Uncle Aram mouths off about it, attracting the attention of the secret service. The village-world of Sero’s, which used to make sense, no longer seems to hang together or feel safe.

An amazing film, so well done. The cinematography is outstanding, the balloon dream sequence alone was stunning. The wee boy that plays the main character is fabulous! He’s so tiny, you can hardly believe he can convey so much emotion so vividly at such a young age.

A film about good neighbours and bad, about how respect for each other’s differences actually unites rather than divides. And at heart, a film about family, whether than be of blood or of choosing. Just a wonderful film.

The World Without You

The World Without You tells the story of a family coming together over a weekend for the one year anniversary memorial for their son who was slain overseas.

The son, Leo, was a war reporter who was killed in Iraq. The grief has caused his parents’ marriage to disintegrate, and they are now considering divorce. His three sisters quarrel constantly amongst each other, and there is a sense that he was both a buffer and the glue that held them all together. Returning home causes the sisters to regress into old dynamics, which grind up against the people they are now.

Clarissa and Nathan are struggling to conceive, and Clarissa’s mum keeps trampling tactlessly over that subject. Noelle has become super religious now that she’s moved to Israel, which makes Lily, an anti-Zionist atheist feel judged, which just escalates into both of them seeing each other as self-righteous and condescending. Noelle’s relationship with her husband Amram suffers, as Lily teases him about throwing himself into being more Jewish than anyone despite have grown up as bacon-loving Arthur.

Amram and Noelle’s relationship feels the most real of anyone’s there. He comes off as this whiny, smug, little manchild, but behind closed doors, you can tell all this is really getting to him. He has a total inferiority complex and is over-compensating at every turn. Which then becomes completely counter-productive as evidenced by his relationship with Lily. Because if he was just happy in his own skin, he could shrug and say, hey, I’m not the smartest guy in the world, I’m not an athlete, no I wasn’t always as religious as I am now, but hey, who cares? We all have our good points and bad. But instead it becomes this constant need to project an unrealistic self-image, and have his ego shored up, and dominate others in one-upmanship. It’s exhausting for his wife.

Noelle is stuck between wanting to defend and stand by the man she loves, and actually trying to get him to deal with real issues they are facing, like a lack of money because he is out of work. She gets sick of her husband always being treated like a joke, and herself and her marriage by extension. Yet at the same time, she has to ground him when his delusions of self-image stray towards the ludicrous. She spends so much time managing his issues for him, that she barely has any time to notice what she needs.

But when they’re alone and he can feel safe to be real with her, a totally different dynamic unfolds. They have intense sexual chemistry, and she really, truly loves him, and wouldn’t have any other man.

The whole family struggle to communicate, constantly descending into arguments, and pulling secrets from each other like teeth. Each sister in turn seems to articulate themselves better when talking their brother’s widow Thisbe, as though they are talking to their brother by proxy. But she has her own stuff to deal with, and is trying to work out how to break it to them that she’s moving in with a new man.

In some way, The World Without You is about the inconclusive nature of grief and family. While the delivery might be a little saccharin, the film says one of the reasons relationships are so hard and grief so lingering is that they are not given to resolutions, only transformations, and the accumulation of history. Even in death, it may end the person, but not the relationship, and his mother, his father, his sisters, their relationship with him is only transforming, not ending.

The Lucky Star

I went into this film knowing nothing and the last thing I expected to see was Kai Winn. Louise Fletcher is in this, as a good guy for once, and she’s great as always. Rod Steiger also appears as a Nazi colonel, bringing his signature moral ambivalence to the role. And Brett Marx, the kid who plays the film’s protagonist David, is also great, making believable a very naive and hopelessly idealistic character.

The other thing I didn’t expect was to laugh so much. This is actually really funny. Marx has great comic timing and physicality.

The film is about David, a Dutch Jewish boy who has seen one too many cowboy films. He practices for his bar mitzvah, then sneaks up onto the roof at night to practice his quick-draw. He falls asleep up there the night the Nazis come for the Jews of Amsterdam, and wakes in the morning to find himself alone in the world.

Saddling up his only belongings, he makes his way to a backwater town, where Louise Fletcher’s Mrs. Bakker takes him in and becomes his second mother. There, David’s cowboy fantasies come to life, and while working as her farmhand, learning to ride a horse and make a lasso.

But when the burgomeister draws him in to get his yellow star, the transformation is complete, and David imagines himself deputised the sheriff. When the Nazis arrive even in this peaceful little town, it comes down to its sheriff to stand up against the gang of no-goods.

Like Life is Beautiful, The Lucky Star is about children escaping into fantasy from the horrors of war. It is also a wish fulfilment for us as an audience, to see David take on Goliath, to see the innocent defeat the monstrous by the very virtue of that innocence. Surprisingly funny and surprisingly touching, a really enjoyable film.

Final Account

Wow.

Final Account is an incredible documentary, interviewing the last remaining Nazis. And these are not, ‘I had to be a Nazi to keep my job as a paralegal’ kinda Nazis. We’re talking Waffen SS, the Death’s Head squad. We’re talking camp guards, people who were right in the thick of it.

My first thought was, “Why are they not in jail?” You know, in that naive way of thinking you assist in the murder of millions of people, you know, there might be some punishment. But no, they’re all in their picket-fence houses, in the same towns and cities where they grew up and wore their uniform. They wave to their neighbours, and their neighbours wave back and say, “Hi Mister So-and-So”. Evil is so mundane.

Which is kinda the point of the Final Account. It always was mundane. These men weren’t born with marks on their head saying, “You will participate in one of the greatest evils to take place on European soil”. Nah, they were born and grew up in small towns and villages, and dreamed of being a knight or a cowboy or a soldier, and when they came of age, the way to be a glorious hero was to join the SS.

What’s interesting is the range of opinion and reflections of these last surviving few.

Some are completely unrepentant, totally defiant, nostalgic for the camaraderie and grandeur of their youth, proud of their achievements, of what made them part of elite forces. “No regrets,” says one. Another has kept all his badges. “The idea was correct,” he says.

But interestingly that doesn’t equate as directly as you’d think to holocaust denial. Yes, some of them outright deny it, some claim the numbers were exaggerated, some claim that it was kept so secret no one could have known to intervene until liberation exposed it. But your auld yin with the badges, someone who is still committed to the Nazi ideals, he says it was wrong. That the Jews should have been expelled only, that to kill them was unnecessarily cruel.

Which yeah, all these are only degrees of horrific, and some might say, who gives a fuck to what extent of antisemitism they would have stopped at? And yer man might have simply been lamenting that the holocaust justified German’s division and subsequent relegation among world powers, not the deaths of millions of people. So what does it matter?

The filmmaker, Luke Holland, his grandparents were killed by the Nazis, they died somewhere unknown in the death machine. And he spent 8 years sitting with these men, listening to them, gaining their trust, and providing a space of no judgement for them to speak freely. Why?

Because the past is speaking, and we need to listen. We live in a time where all across the world people are seeing the rise of the far-right, and the normalisation of talking about people who are ‘unworthy of life’. Back then the Lebensunwertes Leben weren’t worth concerning yourself about if they died, today it’s having ‘an underlying health condition’ which means the you are an acceptable loss. None of these issues have gone away, so we need to hear from those who reached the very crescendo of horror how they got there, and hopefully warn us of how to avoid it.

Some do feel ashamed, they speak about their experiences openly to young people, letting them know, don’t believe the denial, I was there, I saw it. It’s so little and far too late, but it’s all the amends they can make.

Some say honestly, it’s the greatest shame of my life, but if you put me back there and gave me my time over again, I still don’t know if I’d do any different. Because I didn’t know what to do then, and I don’t know if I’ve changed enough that I’d know what to do now. Some claim they were afraid that if they refused orders, they’d be shot too, although no one has ever heard of that actually happening. Would they be braver than their fear if put to the test again? They say they don’t know. They didn’t think they were capable of it the first time.

It’s amazing how many of them split hairs over who was a perpetrator. “If you volunteer,” says one. “But didn’t you put yourself forward to be SS?” asks the filmmaker. Aye, but that was different. “I was a soldier,” says another, “I fought on the front. How am I supposed to know what’s going on a home?” “Weren’t you in the Death’s Head Squad in the Ukraine?” asks the filmmaker. Even up to the death camp guards, who says, “I just stood guard.” Yes, I watched them beaten, yes I watched them killed, yes I watched them burned. But I wasn’t the one doing it.

Apparently 6 million people were murdered and absolutely no one was responsible for their deaths. All these stories people tell themselves, so that they can go on living with themselves.

One Austrian woman points out, when Hitler invaded, the first people rounded up and killed were anyone who had taken a stand politically against Nazism. So all that were left were people who didn’t have that kind of committed opposition to fascism. People who didn’t want to get involved in politics, just live their lives as comfortably as they could. People who didn’t really question the status quo. People who were not happy standing out.

Final Account is a testament to be handed down to the generations to come. Soon the last living memory will disappear, and we will no longer be able to interrogate or gain insights from our past. Those who operated, administered, and stood by as the Final Solution wiped Europe’s Jewry from the map, what they tell us is a warning from history. Maybe even, or especially, the lies. For almost a century to pass and to still be unable to face the horror of what you’ve done. To tell yourself a lie about who you are for so long, you now believe it yourself.

These people were quiet, unassuming, law-abiding citizens until the 1930s, then they were complicit in mass murder for a few years, then they were quiet, unassuming, law-abiding citizens for 8 decades. Look around now and understand the possibility for that, the capacity for that, is always there.

For last, I’ll finish with a quote from Kiran Desai:

“There they were, the most commonplace of them… the most ordinary swept up in extraordinary hatred, because extraordinary hatred was, after all, a commonplace event.”

A Starry Sky Above The Roman Ghetto

A Starry Sky Above The Roman Ghetto is a teen drama following Sofia, who decides to track down a mysterious girl whose photo she finds in a suitcase. This leads her to make a play based on the story she uncovers, uniting the Christian and Jewish kids of Rome in its production.

She finds a letter in a second-hand suitcase in the loft, along with the photo of a young girl. The letter tells the girl, Sarah Cohen, that she is loved, and to take the love which has been given her on her journey to her new life. It turns out Sarah Cohen was a young Jewish girl saved by nuns, one of whom in particular had a deep affection for her and loved her like a daughter. But an unethical prioress effectively sold her after the war, baptising her and putting her up for adoption with Christian parents.

Sofia sets herself to tracking down Sarah Cohen to give her the lost letter with the help of her friends from her own and the Jewish school. They are all creative types so they set out to turn the story into a play, so its lessons from the past can be heard.

To be honest, the kids are a little too enthusiastic about the play, defying their parents and the wishes of the local Jewish community by staging an inter-faith production. Which, on one hand it’s good to show the next generation throwing off the divisions of the past, and on the other, it’s like hey, maybe respect people’s traumas. They’re all super excited, composing music and sorting out costumes, and it’s like, calm down Dawson’s Creek, this isn’t an episode of Glee, folk are deid. It does stray more than a little into cheesy, but in pursuit of a good cause.

A hopeful story about finding ways to cross divides and heal old wounds.

Ziyara

I have no faith, but I was greeting within the first 5 minutes of this film. With all the films I’ve watched lately, where difference is a divide, difference is a source of conflict, it moved me to tears to watch a film where difference is neighbourhood, difference is valued, difference makes us all richer.

Ziyara is pilgrimage to the resting places of saints. In Judaism, this means people, rabbis and scholars, who were close to God. Morocca is scattered with holy sites, selpulchres of the devout. But since the mass emigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel after its founding, these places are almost exclusively taken care of by the Muslims there.

It honestly brought me to tears to see the level of care and reverence with which these sites are treated. The Muslim caretakers look after these places with such attention to detail and respect. Everything is kept not just clean, but *spotless*. One cemetery guardian taught herself Hebrew so she could catalogue the gravestones and keep the heritage for anyone who comes back to find it.

And it is not simply religious sites which are preserved. One shopkeeper, whose father took over the shop of a Jewish family after they left, has kept the mezuzah by the shop door, and by his counter. He would never think of doing anything else, he says, everything that contains the word of God is holy. Others say the same, that Jews, Christians, Muslims, are cousins of the one family, and they miss the presence of Jews in their communities like you would miss family.

Everywhere they go, they meet with kindness. And I almost cried harder at that than I have at the other films showing such sorrow. Because it is such an overlooked blessing, the simple kindness of others. And in a world where we are so wary and constantly expecting to meet the worst, kindness is just a rare and resurrecting balm.

The filmmaker visits old synagogues, where the Muslim caretaker has the keys, comes in to keep and maintain the place, and knows the traditions inside and out. In one synagogue with only a dwindling congregation of two dozen or so Jews, they ask the caretaker why he has kept 5 torahs here. “Because,” he says, “if they were sent away to a museum, how would we even know Jews were here?” The torahs remain for anyone who might come looking for the past, and somewhere in a small hope that one day their Jewish neighbours will return.

In the Casablanca Jewish museum, the Muslim curator shows the filmmaker the ancient torahs. With white gloves, treated with the utmost preciousness and respect, she unrolls the carefully conserved scrolls. Before placing them back in their enclave, she redresses them, first in a simple white cloth, then tying them with a sash, and wrapping it in a jacket of green and gold. She could not have been more tender if she was dressing a newborn babe. She says to the filmmaker, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but before I touch the torah, I say,” Bismillah”. ” Meaning ‘in the name of God’.

The detail of the history which is kept is extraordinary. Where the Jewish quarter was abandoned, and the homes fell into ruin due to the weather, Muslim guides can still tell any visitors which house belonged to who, the names of the residents, who was their rabbi. It is just incredible.

I gret throughout this movie, it was just so moving. An affirmation of the everyday miracle of human kindness and the brotherhood of man.

To the emigre Jews of Morocco, your neighbours miss you.

Tuning

God, this made me wanna learn how to play the piano.

My dad used to say, when you see someone play an instrument, it’s like they can make magic in their hands. It’s very true, and it never seems to get old.

Tuning is the kind of documentary I love, one that invites you sit, stay, and watch for while. Look out at the world there is around you. It is 50 minutes focused on the piano in Central Station in Tel Aviv.

You know the piano under the big clock in Central Station here in Glasgow? It’s like that. And sitting and watching it for an hour, you get to see all the life of the city go past. The older lady who comes over to sing to the young guy’s tune. The lovers who can barely get through the song without snogging. The workie putting up signs before opening, who sits down and belts out this amazing piece. Just incredible.

But fuck, there’s a lot of soldiers kicking about. It makes you realise, that must just be normal there, for every third person to be in uniform. No one bats a eyelid, but I’d find that really alarming, all these folk cutting about in khaki, their cudgel and their bunnet stuck under their shoulder strap.

And the music is so great. Classics known the world over, ragtime, rap, recognisable chart hits, and Israeli songs I was less familiar with. Some of the songs are so moving and so well performed. It’s amazing the level of talent that just passes by you on a daily basis.

After the past year, with all the madness, treat yourself to 50 minutes to sit down and simply see the world. It’s lovely.

Thou Shalt Not Hate

Thou Shalt Not Hate is about an Italian doctor, son of a Holocaust survivor, whose path crosses with a family of neo-Nazis. It is a film about how we deal with the inheritance of hate, and what we might be willing to sacrifice to see the cycle end.

Simone is a dashing, middle-aged doctor, who is mourning the recent death of his father, with whom he had a very complicated relationship. He unexpectedly is the sole witness a hit and run, and begins to attend to the victim. But as he finds the man to be covered in swastika tattoos, he stops, stands back, and simply waits for the ambulance to arrive. The victim dies, bleeding out.

Simone struggles with guilt over the coming days, and looks up the guy’s family. He has a daughter in her 20s who has returned to care for her brothers, one a teenager, one just a child. They are broke and scrambling to make ends meet. So when the daughter, Marica, starts working as a cleaner, Simone hires her to do his flat.

What starts off as a wary and tentative act of amends, deepens into something more real. Despite violent resistance from Marica’s teenage brother, this seemingly uncrossable divide begins to shrink with humanising interaction.

Thou Shalt Not Hate is not a fairytale of resolution but a drama about how we make hate one step at a time, and how we can unmake it the same way. There are no guarantees, the effects carry on across generations, and there will never be a final victory or final defeat, but every choice makes a difference, and every choice is in our power to make.