The 2012 Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival, running through April 1, runs the gamut from effervescent French romance, frivolous comedy and touching family drama to politically engaged personal documentaries. Tonight’s kickoff, “Dorfman,” won the Hollywood film Festival and Miami Jewish Film Festival’s best feature prizes. The script by Wendy Kout, whose writing resume stretches back to “Mork and Mindy,” features characters, plot devices and story beats familiar from laugh-track sitcoms. Sara Rue plays Deb Dorfman, an accountant from the beige San Fernando Valley whose life takes a turn toward excitement when she’s apartment-sits for a friend in Los Angeles’ revitalized downtown. Elliott Gould is wryly funny as her melancholic widower father and Haaz Sleiman smolders as a sexually ambiguous (but very, very active) new neighbor offering exotic romantic possibilities. The complications facing our heroine are routine, with bothersome relatives moving in at the drop of a hat, and she faces few problems that can’t be solved with a makeover or a sudden strengthening of backbone. The film’s Minnesota premiere is 7 p.m. today at the Showplace Icon Theatre in St. Louis Park’s West End Shops.
Other entries in the 14-film series will be shown at the Sabes Jewish Community Center theater, 4330 S. Cedar Lake Rd., Minneapolis. Highlights include:

“Bride Flight,” a lavish romantic drama set in the South Pacific. Brashly sentimental as a Harlequin romance, "Bride Flight" is a high-calorie wallow in forbidden temptations, religious taboos and guilty pleasures. A blonde, a brunette and a redhead depart drab post-World War II Holland for new lives in New Zealand, where their fiancés await. On the extended plane flight, devout fundamentalist Ada (Karina Smulders), Jewish fashion plate Esther (Anna Drijver) and down-to-earth Marjorie (Elise Schaap) all take a shine to fellow passenger Frank (Waldemar Torenstra), a studly farmer who will figure in their lives for the next 50 years. The plotting is artless: Hard-charging Esther gets an unwanted pregnancy, family-oriented Marjorie can't conceive and sensual Ada finds that it's easier to preach monogamy than to practice it. The film's timeline is scrambled, hopping from a contemporary funeral where the now elderly and estranged friends find a degree of closure, back to the first decade of their new lives in the South Pacific, with the tumultuous love affairs, disappointments and rivalries that drove them apart. The film is at times kitschy beyond belief. Yet it's hard to hate a film that knows just where its audience's buttons are and pushes them so energetically -- it does everything but hand viewers a glass of white wine, light candles and draw them a bath. Oh, and did I mention the sexytime scene that goes on and on and on? "Bride Flight" is sure to be the most talked-about movie at the nail salon this week. (7 p.m. Wednesday, March 21.)

“Crime After Crime,” a real-life prison thriller. Debbie Peagler was just 15 when she met Oliver Wilson in the late 1970s. He became her boyfriend, then her abuser, then made her enter prostitution under fear for her safety. She sought protection from a couple of toughs who agreed to rough him up, and Wilson was later found dead. Peagler was charged with murder, coerced into a guilty plea and incarcerated for more than 20 years when a change in California's penal code offered her the possibility of a judicial review. "Crime After Crime" tracks the legal drama of the activist lawyers who pursued her cause, the private investigator who uncovered prosecutorial misconduct, and Peagler's long journey to freedom. It's an emotionally engaging reminder that idealism can triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. (7 p.m., Thursday, March 22.)

“The Names of Love,” an adorably daffy contemporary French love story. Bahia (Sara Forestier), a politically engaged, sexually uninhibited Parisian, comes up with an innovative way to promote her progressive agenda. She sleeps exclusively with right-wingers, be they Islamophobic French nationalists or immigrant Muslim fundamentalists, converting the body politic one man at a time. Since Forestier is a breezy, engaging actress (she won France's Oscar equivalent, the Cesar, in this role), Bahia comes across as zany and effervescent, not haywire. When she meets Arthur (Jacques Gamblin), a proper medical examiner, he's understandably smitten. But there are a couple of small issues. She's half-Algerian, and he's got lingering issues with his half-Jewish heritage. He's twice her age. And he's a lefty. The ebullient screenplay (which also won a Cesar) borrows freely from "Annie Hall"-era Woody Allen. There are straight-to-camera asides, a riotously un-PC scene of Bahia ruining a dinner party with innocent but anti-Semitic-sounding remarks, and kid actors playing young Arthur and Bahia who squabble with their grownup selves. There's even a Marshall McLuhan moment featuring a prominent French politician who proves to be a really good sport. It's all put across with such energy and good spirits that it feels brand new. If you don't enjoy this one, you don't like fun. (7 p.m., Thursday, March 29. In subtitled French.)
Tickets are priced from $8 to $22 for individual films, but five- and 10-ticket packages are available for $45 ($35 for JCC members) and $85 ($70 for JCC members). For a complete schedule and tickets, visit the Sabes JCC website.


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