Toronto Jewish Film Festival slate is full of sneak peeks

From Disobedience, featuring Rachels Weisz and McAdams as Orthodox Jewish women in love, to the doc about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this year's TJFF screens many much-anticipated films

Last updated on July 11th, 2020 at 07:14 am

26th Toronto Jewish Film Festival from Thursday (May 3) to May 13 at multiple venues. Tickets and venue info at tjff.com

PROMISE AT DAWN (Eric Barbier, France). 131 minutes. May 3, 7 pm, Varsity May 5, 9 pm, Empress Walk 5. Rating: NNN


Previously filmed in 1970 by Jules Dassin, Romain Gary’s autobiographical 1960 novel gets an ambitious new adaptation from director/co-writer Eric Barbier (The Last Diamond).

Barbier goes all in on the sprawling, episodic narrative, which spans decades (and most of Europe), starting with young Roman Kacew (Pawel Puchalski) growing up Jewish in Polish-annexed Vilnius with his force-of-nature mother Nina (Charlotte Gainsbourg, going big for a change and having a ball). 

In his teens, they move to Nice, where Roman becomes Romain (Yves Saint Laurent string bean Pierre Niney) and joins the French air force before the arrival of the German war machine forces him to flee the country so he can fight against the Nazis in Africa and eventually England.

The tone is all over the place, swinging from gentle drama to melancholy and back again there’s even a big CG action sequence, as a bombing raid goes wrong over Germany. It’s messy and busy, but never dull. NORMAN WILNER

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DISOBEDIENCE (Sebastián Lelio, UK). May 12, 9 pm, Hot Docs Cinema. Rating: NNN


Sebastián Lelio’s tale of two women who have an affair in an Orthodox Jewish community in London is well done, if not entirely convincing.

New York City photographer Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns home to London after the death of her father, an esteemed rabbi. Her uneasiness at first seems to stem from her sense that everyone there disapproves of her – she’d fled the community to pursue a secular life – but soon it becomes clear that she’s nervous about encountering Esti (Rachel McAdams), who had been her very secret lover. Esti is married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), another former close friend of Ronit’s, who’s in line to be the next rabbi. Esti has been a dutiful wife for years, but can’t resist Ronit.

Lelio excels at creating ambiguity, and Weisz is excellent as a woman who struggles to rebel and be respectful at the same time.

But McAdams is the key here, conveying the inner conflict between her duty and her desire, forbearing on the one hand, sexy on the other. 

Some elements don’t make sense. Why does Dovid agree to let Ronit stay with him and Esti, knowing his wife’s history? 

The film simplifies the issues conveyed so expertly in Trembling Before G-d, the 2001 documentary about gay Orthodox Jews. SUSAN G. COLE

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RBG (Julie Cohen, Betsy West, U.S.). 97 minutes. May 13, 8 pm, Hot Docs Cinema. Rating: NNN


The life and career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg – the second woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, and a lifelong crusader for equal rights and a world without gender discrimination – gets a respectful accounting in this CNN Films documentary.

Interviewing the then 83-year-old Ginsburg as well as friends, coll-eagues and family members, directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West stick to a chronological approach and never push anyone too hard. 

I would have liked a deeper exploration of their subject’s fascinating contradictions – Ginsburg’s own children describe her as “timid” and yet she was passionately arguing cases before the Supremes decades before she joined the band – but RBG is a solid look at a brilliant woman who’s helped change hernation for the better. NW

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