TORONTO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL from Saturday (May 5) to May 13, various locations. $6-$10, opening night $20, passes $60-$200. 416-324-9121 (hotline), 416-967-1528 (box office), www.tjff.com. Rating: NNNNN
THE RAPE OF EUROPA (Richard Berge, Nicole Newnham, Bonni Cohen, USA). 117 minutes. Some subtitles. May 13, 7:30 pm, Bloor. Rating: NNNN
Who knew that a documentary chronicling the Nazis' theft and destruction of art and subsequent attempts to recover and restore that art would make for such gripping viewing?
But this fascinating festival closer, based on Lynn H. Nicholas's acclaimed book, moves as briskly as an international spy thriller.
Hitler, perhaps embittered by his failure to get into Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts (Schiele and Kokoschka made the cut that year), later purged Europe of so-called "degenerate art," plundered Jewish collections and inspired his cronies, even the philistine Hermann Göring, to amass art for themselves and loot throughout Russia, Italy and France to set up a future Führer Museum.
Tellingly, before they invaded a country, the Nazis drew up wish lists of works they hoped to seize.
Among the memorable characters in this epic story are Rose Valland, an unassuming French art historian who courageously kept a written record of the artworks she saw being transported, and Deane Keller, a Yale prof who helped identify, preserve and recover works in bombed-out cities and towns.
The film is bookended by a poignant story about Gustav Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which made headlines last year when it sold for an estimated $135 million. After this film, narrated with controlled urgency by Joan Allen, you won't look at that masterpiece, or any of the others, in quite the same way again. GLENN SUMI
HATS OF JERUSALEM (Nati Adler, Israel). 52 minutes. Subtitled. Sunday (May 6), 4 pm, Al Green. Rating: NNN
Time was, everyone wore hats. Fedoras, bowlers, those floaty things women wore to Ascot. In Jerusalem, head coverings are still important signifiers, and in the wry and informative Hats Of Jerusalem, Nati Adler investigates their history and meaning.
He discovers that many head coverings were once symbols of humiliation and oppression. Some still are. And this crosses religious lines: Jews, Christians and Muslims all seem either to invoke a painful history or enforce modesty by covering their heads. When Adler asks why, he gets several variations on "It's the way it's always been."
This isn't the most thought-provoking film ever made about religious difference, but Adler makes it clear that hats in Jerusalem do two things: they help engender a sense of community, but they also make it easy to identify the Other. What starts as a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at religious fashion ends as an illustrated lesson in semiotics. DEIRDRE SWAIN
The First Zionist Bunny isn?t your typical reality-show exposé.
THE FIRST ZIONIST BUNNY (Shiri Shahar, Israel). 74 minutes. Subtitled. Tuesday (May 8), 9:45 pm, Bloor. Rating: NNN
Zionism has nothing to do with this doc about the search for an Israeli host for the Playboy Channel. Like the reality TV programs it resembles, the film shows the candidates forming alliances, pretending they don't care about winning and partying in skimpy clothes.
What elevates it beyond your standard beauty competition is the eventual choice (announced in the first five minutes): Noga Shachar has short hair, a flat chest and obvious body-image issues. But the channel is fighting for its survival in Israel, and the producers pick Noga because she's smart. They hope she'll bring some class to the enterprise.
We don't get to see whether or not she does, and Noga is no longer with Playboy. If nothing else, it's a relief to hear a reality show competitor who doesn't spout platitudes and declare that defeat just makes her stronger. After her victory, Noga said winning might be the start of "it" -- i.e., a better life -- and you like her enough to hope she's right. DEIRDRE SWAIN
Four long Weeks
FOUR WEEKS IN JUNE(Henry Meyer, Sweden). 111 minutes. Subtitled. Tuesday (May 8), 7:30 pm, Bloor; Wednesday (May 9), 8:30 pm, Sheppard Grande. Rating: NN
Two women from different generations but with comparable deep, dark secrets teach each other valuable life lessons in a run-down Swedish house in this manipulative, sentimental drama. Sandra (Tuva Novotny) is stuck doing community service after stabbing her cheating boyfriend with a pair of scissors, while Lily (Ghita N¿rby), a cranky old Jewish senior, plays Billie Holiday records and reminisces about her tragic affair with the brother of a Nazi officer.
There's a nice romantic arc between Sandra and a migrant Polish worker (Lukasz Garlicki) with whom she communicates in broken English. Apart from the Swedish setting, we've seen everything before, but there are good performances by the feisty Novotny and the ornery N¿rby, who's so famous in her native Denmark that she's got a cake named after her. GLENN SUMI