Two films with strong gay themes will be featured when the 22nd annual Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival opens this week in locations across the county.
Presented by the Palm Beach Jewish Film Society, an outreach of the Jewish Community Center, the festival will present 40 features and shorts from Wednesday, Dec. 7 to Sunday, Dec. 18 at theaters in West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Royal Palm Beach and Lake Worth.
The first film, Esther & Me, by lesbian comedian Lisa Geduldig, chronicles the relationship she developed with Esther Weintraub, a resident of the Jewish Home of San Francisco, who caught Geduldig’s attention in a film about the home.
The octogenarian, a high fashion model during the Depression, turned to comedy after breaking her back in an automobile accident 35 years into her career. With Geduldig’s help she began headlining local comedy shows in San Francisco, often talking about the days when she was “young and gay…when gay was a different thing.”
When the issue of Gedudig’s lesbianism came up, Weintraub opened up about her own experiences working with gay men in the garment industry. “They treated me better than the heterosexuals,” she said, because the salesmen often hit on the young models.
While filming the documentary, Weintraub finally succumbs to age and Geduldig brings her camera to the 2005 memorial service at the home. Geduldig shares with those gathered, “Esther told me once she would like to meet a nice gay man in his ‘70s who would just take her to the theater and not want anything,” eliciting the laughs deadpan Weintraub’s jokes often drew.
Even in her last days, Weintraub displays a witty, gregarious personality that makes Esther & Me a fascinating portrait of a colorful lifetime, forging a friendship with audiences who never met her.
The second presentation, Mary Lou, is an award-winning Israeli television miniseries from director Eytan Fox that has been compared to the hit Fox television series Glee, but is in fact a “jukebox musical” much closer to Mamma Mia.
The series follows the obsessive pursuits of Meir, a young gay boy who is taught by his mother to love the music of pop singer Svika Pick. When his mother leaves on his tenth birthday, Meir convinces himself she has left to pursue a career as a backup singer to Pick.
After graduating from school, he begins a quest to find his mother that takes him to Tel Aviv. Along the way, he becomes involved in a love triangle with childhood friends Shuli and Gabi, performs in drag on the stages of a gay dive in Tel Aviv, and must confront the disturbing reality he eventually stumbles upon.
Pick’s music is tuneful and upbeat, not unlike the songs of ABBA, and the musical numbers are expertly choreographed and danced. Ido Rozenberg is sympathetic as a young man who constructs an all-encompassing fantasy to explain his mother’s departure. Alon Levi is the hunky, confused love interest and Yedidia Vital shines as Uri, the tormented young drag performer who creates an opportunity for Meir to step into his mother’s shoes. Even Pick—Ozzy Osbourne’s doppelganger in every sense—makes a cameo appearance.
At times the film gets tedious and too easily falls into stereotypes, but at 140 minutes, it is still engaging and will appeal to gay and gay-friendly audiences alike.
Jewish Film Festival of Palm Beach
Dec. 7 -18
For tickets, venues and showtimes,
go to PalmBeachJewishFilmorg
Esther & Me
Monday, Dec. 12, 10:30 a.m.
Movies at Delray
Wednesday, Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 17, 8:45 p.m.
Regal Delray 18