A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE (Igal Hecht). 70 minutes. Sunday (June 16), 6:30 pm.
NXNE FILM FESTIVAL tonight (Thursday, June 13) through Sunday (June 16) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (504 Bloor West) and various other locations. NXNE wristband, NXNE Film wristband, NXNE Priority Pass or $10 per screening. nxne.com/film. Rating: NNN
The comedy portion of NXNE is bigger than ever, and that's reflected in the film fest, too. In A Universal Language, Yuk Yuk's founder Mark Breslin and six Canadian stand-ups travel to the Holy Land to see if their jokes detonate in one of the world's most politically charged centres.
Sounds like a great premise, and it pays off up to a point. Breslin and some comics - particularly Rebecca Kohler, Jean Paul and Aaron Berg - are in fine form in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, playing to everyone from senior citizens to savvy hipsters.
There are contradictions aplenty, like the comedy club that bans the word "crap" and anything sexual. The worst response they get is in a club in East Jerusalem where an entire table leaves after a comic fails to mention Palestine. A shame director Igal Hecht and crew didn't follow those patrons to find out why.
But it's a joy to see the comics integrate their trip into their material (Jean Paul's Dead Sea joke is priceless). And there are plenty of moving moments, as when Breslin inserts the set list of Jewish comic Stewart Silver, who was to have joined them but died suddenly before the trip, into the Western Wall.