Is loving one’s enemy an act of treason? Maybe, maybe not.
But in the heart-warming movie, “The Little Traitor,” which opens the 2009 Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival Thursday at the SouthSide Works Cinema, an 11-year-old Jewish boy decides that his unexpected friendship with a British soldier is worth the risk.
Proffy, who lives in Jerusalem, in 1947 — months before Israeli independence — hates the British. They patrol his neighborhood daily arresting anyone who violates the curfew. On his bedroom floor, Proffy constantly acts out fictitious battles with his toy soldiers; the British always lose and occasionally one is hanged by his neck from the boy’s bed frame.
Proffy even plans a not-so-childish act of resistance with two of his friends from school who call themselves the Freedom or Death group.
But his attitude changes when he is late — again — getting home before curfew. A British sergeant, played by Alfred Molina (“Spider Man 2”, “The DaVinci Code”, “Chocolat”) catches Proffy and escorts him home. An unlikely friendship emerges and Proffy begins visiting the sergeant at the British headquarters at Orient House.
How Proffy sees his enemies, and himself, suddenly changes, but it comes with a price as his friends and neighbors suddenly suspect him of passing secrets to the British. All of which, as well as a pretty young woman who lives next door to Proffy’s family, causes the boy to grow up faster than he otherwise would.
“The Little Traitor” humanizes life in Jerusalem at a turning point in Jewish history. The British mandate, the Holocaust, the spectre of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the hard questions it poses, are all background to this sweet story.
But the real tale is between Proffy and the soldier, who comes unknowingly to owe his life to his young friend — something that leads to the treason charges.
At 88 minutes, “The Little Traitor” uses its runtime well to tell a story and develop characters the filmgoer cares about. There are even lessons to learn about pre-independence Palestine and the climate of the times. It’s a nice way to start this year’s film festival.
(Thursday, March 12, 7 p.m., SouthSide Works Cinema)
Also making its Pittsburgh premiere this week is “The Deal,” a comedy co-starring William H. Macy, Meg Ryan, Elliott Gould and LL Cool J.
Macy is a down and out movie producer who gets his hands on a script about the life of Benjamin Disraeli, the famous British prime minister, beautifully written by his nephew — a screenplay writer wannabe. Sensing a chance to make some quick cash, Macy’s character turns the script into an action flick starring a rapper who just converted to Judaism.
This satirical look at Hollywood has some hilarious gags and the cast is first rate, but the film runs a little long (98 minutes) and much of the plot falls flat. Also, some of the content may not be appropriate for young or observant viewers. “The Deal” is presented in cooperation with the Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Three Rivers Film Festival.
(Sunday, March 15, 8 p.m., SouthSide Works Cinema)
“Holy Land Hardball.”
One man’s dream to bring baseball to Israel is the subject of “Holy Land Hardball.”
Larry Baras made millions of dollars inventing the first bagel with cream cheese inside of it. The year 2004 was rough on him and his family, so he wanted to do something for
He came up with the idea for the Israel Baseball League. The movie documents the challenges he faced in building a new league from the ground up. From dealing with Israelis who had never heard of baseball, to finding players all around the world, the audience sees every struggle that faced Baras and his staff.
“Holy Land Hardball” is a fascinating documentary and is a must-see not just for baseball fans, but also for those interested in Israeli culture. Is the IBL ready for Opening Day June 24, 2007? Don’t miss the story of how a U.S. tradition attempts to make it in Israel.
(Some adult language. Monday, March 16, 7:30 p.m., SouthSide Works Cinema)
“Lost Islands” starts out as the story of a close family that enjoys spending time together. The family is comprised of the mother, father and five children — including twin brothers. The story starts to veer off from the happy family to become one more focused on Erez and Ofer, the teenage twins, with the family still a strong presence in the background.
The story takes place in Israel in the early 1980s, and the period is heavily reflected in the American music used throughout the movie. Erez, Ofer and a friend spend their time together having fun, but the dynamic between brothers starts to change when Neta, a beautiful new student at their school, joins their group. The viewer is never completely certain which brother she is most drawn to.
The actors’ performances are so natural that the viewer can almost forget that this family only exists in a movie.
Dreams go unrealized as events unfold that forever change the family. “Lost Islands” begins lighthearted, but the viewer can’t help getting caught up watching this family’s good times unwind into irreversible
(Some nudity and sexual content. Saturday, March 21, 8:45 p.m., SouthSide Works Cinema)
Also playing this week:
“A touch Away,” episodes 1, 2 and 3
Visit ujfpittsburgh.org/filmfestival for times, dates and venues or call (412) 992-5203.