posterDirector Lisa Immordino Vreeland examines the life of the great Peggy Guggenheim, an American Jewish woman at the forefront of both the European and American modern art movements. Told in chronological order, the film documents the journey of a woman ahead of her time, willing to risk everything in the interest of following her passion for discovering and sharing modern art. (EML: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Eliana Levenson

Based on Peggy’s biography and featuring previously unheard tapes between Peggy and her biographer, Jacqueline Bograd Weld, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is quick to paint Peggy Guggenheim as a woman hungry to be a somebody and fearless in her methods for attaining that status.

Starting with Peggy’s childhood, the film explores the difference between Peggy and the rest of her upper class family.  As she ages, Peggy seeks out art and culture, moving to Paris in her twenties and growing close with most of the notable twentieth century artists, writers, and intellectuals.

The film is quick to point out that art wasn’t the only thing Peggy was chasing, and her romantic trysts, despite her seeming lack of physical beauty, are part of her legacy. Known for discovering some of the twentieth century’s greatest artists, including Jackson Pollock, Peggy’s insatiable appetite to be remembered pushed her to break the rules of the twentieth century woman.

peggy-guggenheim1While Peggy was part of one of the most influential Jewish families of the twentieth century,  it seems that the two most salient Jewish issues raised within the documentary are almost entirely ignored. Firstly, Peggy spent most of World War II in Europe, continuing her work collecting and protecting the modern artists under attack. At one point, Jacqueline asks Peggy if she was ever scared, being a Jew in Europe during the war. Peggy however, is quick to explain that “being afraid isn’t in [her] nature.” Whether or not this is accurate, the fact that Peggy remained as a Jew in Europe during the Holocaust is notable, particularly because she seemed more interested in protecting art and artists than her own people. While she is responsible for saving Max Ernst and others from the Nazi’s, Peggy’s focus during the war is clear, she sees herself persecuted with the modern artists, not with the Jews.

Secondly, Peggy’s nose job, which is discussed only briefly, is indicative of a standard of beauty that Jewish women often felt excluded from. As the film does seem to heavily focus on Peggy’s looks (and the number of lovers she managed to snag in spite of them) the fact that Peggy had a botched nose job seems incredibly relevant. While the documentary emphasizes the fact that Peggy was a promiscuous woman, unafraid to push the boundaries of what was acceptable for a woman of her status, the fact that this bold and brazen woman had attempted to improve her appearance with a nose job reminds you of the pressure Jewish women felt to look more like their gentile counterparts. Still, after the procedure was botched, Peggy’s decision to live with the nose and make it part of her persona, demonstrates her willingness to push boundaries.

While the documentary itself feels more like an AP History powerpoint presentation than a film, the message of Peggy’s lifestyle both as a woman and a Jew are poignant, reminding us that being yourself can result in an incredible life.

© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (11/9/15)peggy-guggenheim_3308815bTop Photo: One of the posters for the theatrical release of Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

Middle Photo: Peggy Guggenheim showing off her unique style, a style she never lost.

Bottom Photo: Peggy amidst negotiations for her priceless collection of modern art in Venice.

Photo Credits: Dakota Group

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CFIC ’15: Sweet Home Chicago

ChgoThumbs11/3/15: With Cindy Stern​ at the 2015 CFIC.

Taking a break during our marathon screening of "The Amsalem Trilogy" (To Take a Wife, Shiva and Gett).

Grueling, yes, but this was such a powerful experience that I can only hope to do it again someday :-)

The audiences for all three screenings--even To Take a Wife at 4 PM--were surprisingly large. And from what we could tell when we asked for a show of hands, approximately 100 people came to watch all three films with us. Yowza!!!

Click HERE to read my post in JUF Online and learn why YOU should try to see all three parts of "The Amsalem Trilogy" someday too.WithCindyFB

Huge thanks once again to CFIC Executive Director Cindy Stern & the Board of Directors of the 2015 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema for placing my photo on the same page with such superlative companions. What an honor!

Photo Credit: Bob Stern (Cindy's wonderful husband).

Finally, last but not least, please note my "two thumbs up" in tribute to Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert -- the two incomparable critics who put the Chicago film scene on the international movie map. After three years in Brooklyn, it felt so great to be back in Sweet Home Chicago!



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CFIC ’15: The Gett Trilogy

15Nov03FlyerThe 10th annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema begins this week, and as regular readers already know, I will be flying in from Brooklyn to participate in a special screening of The Gett Trilogy on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

This is something of a high-risk venture for the CFIC, because the initial release of Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem was a “2014 event” rather than a “2015 event.” Gett received an Ophir Award as Best Picture of the Year from the Israel Film Academy in September 2014, and it received a Golden Globe nomination from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in December 2014 in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

In between, Gett also made its first Chicago appearance at the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival in October, and then played at both local Landmark Theatres -- the Century Center Cinema in Lincoln Park and the Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park -- in February and March.

Nevertheless, even if you have already seen some -- or all -- of The Gett Trilogy already, I sincerely believe that the opportunity to see all three parts together should not be missed. I will go so far as to say this will be a cultural experience somewhat akin to signing up for one of the Lyric Opera’s Ring Cycle weeks (an experience hubby and I both cherished).ProgramPageJLH

I will be with you all day on Nov. 3 to watch all three films in person, and that’s really saying something because I have already seen Gett three times, and I have seen both To Take a Wife and Shiva twice. But great works of art are inherently open to multiple interpretations, and different facets often resonate based on changes in your own life. (For a wonderful analysis of this phenomenon, get yourself a copy of Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering by Wendy Lesser.)

Just a few weeks back, I actually found myself arguing with another film critic here in NYC about our contrasting interpretations of Gett, so I will be looking with new eyes. Maybe she is right? Maybe I missed something? Who knows? As I always say: “You don’t know until you go!”

Let me stop now and back-up, because even though I have written JUF posts about all of the 2014 events mentioned above, many of you reading now are probably new to The Gett Trilogy and are therefore thoroughly baffled.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is the third film in a trilogy about an Israeli woman named Viviane Amsalem who is seeking a divorce decree (a “gett”) from the Bet Din (Rabbinical Court).


Viviane Amsalem is played by Ronit Elkabetz, one of Israel’s most highly lauded actresses. She has also starred in well-known Israeli films such as Late Marriage and The Band’s Visit, as well as high-profile French films including The Girl on the Train.

In addition to her starring role as Viviane, Elkabetz also co-wrote the screenplay and co-directed the production in collaboration with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz. The story is loosely based on the life of their parents. Together they collected awards from film festivals all around the world, including a “Silver Hugo” for Best Screenplay from the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival jury.

To Take a Wife, the first film in the series, was released in Israel in 2004. Although it was shown in various film festivals around the world, it was not widely available in the USA until a DVD was released in 2009.

Shiva, the second film in the series, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2008 was released in Israel a few months later. I saw it the following year at CFIC ’09. (It appears on the “Highly Recommended” list at the end of my JUF post.) Yet once again, it was not widely available in the USA until the DVD release, also in 2009.

However, worldwide acclaim for Gett has fed interest in the first two parts of the trilogy, no doubt related to greater awareness of the agunot (“Chained Women”) issue in the Jewish world at large since 2004.VivianeTTAW

Let me cut to the chase: If you have only seen Gett, it will be almost impossible to feel one iota of respect for Viviane’s husband, Elisha. It’s very difficult to understand the motivations of a man who would treat any woman like this... for decades! But here I remind you that Ronit and Shlomi have based these characters on their own parents. So Elisha is not just a “monster” to them, he is a man presumably much like their own father.

Watch the entire trilogy, and you will see how actor Simon Abkarian wins our grudging sympathy for someone who knew his place growing up in Morocco, but cannot find his way after making aliyah. Elisha is not the first man in his position who tried to reclaim lost dignity by lording it over his family. And with so many displaced people now flooding the developed world, we should be more grateful than ever that Ronit and Shlomi have empathy for Elisha even though they are clearly rooting for Viviane.

Screenings on Nov. 3 are as follows:

  • To Take a Wife at 4 p.m. (runtime 97 minutes)
  • Shiva at 6:30 p.m. (runtime 103 minutes)
  • Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem at 8:45 p.m. (runtime 115 minutes)

Remember: I will be watching with you, and I will be available to answer questions and provide continuity from beginning to end.

Note that there will also be a dessert buffet for sponsors at 2:30 p.m. at which I will present “Jan’s Guide to Gett” (an overview of character arcs and major themes). If you would like to attend, please send me an e-mail message ASAP: tzivi (at) msn (dot) com.

Todah Rabah to CFIC Executive Director Cindy Stern for inviting me, and to the five sponsors -- Hadassah, Na’Amat, ORT, Shalva, and Teddie Kossof Salon -- who are making this extraordinary day possible.

I hope to see some of you there!


Click here to read my post “Tzivi’s Guide to the 10th annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema” for the October issue of the JUF News.

For a complete program schedule, visit the CFIC ’15 website.

Click here to buy CFIC ’15 tickets

Posted on JUF Online on 10/27/15.

Top Photo: Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) and her attorney (Menashe Noy) face off against her husband Elisha Amsalem (Simon Abkarian) in one of their innumerable appearances before the Rabbinical Court in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.

Top Photo: Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) as she first appeared in To Take a Wife.

Photos courtesy of CFIC & Music Box Films.


Final Note: Huge thanks once again to CFIC Executive Director Cindy Stern & the Board of Directors of the 2015 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema for placing my photo on the same page with such superlative companions. What an honor!

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Playing in NYC, LA, Chgo, etc... Review coming soon...

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CFIC ’15: Tzivi’s Guide

Tzivi's Guide to the 10th Annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema


Patrons of this year’s Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema (CFIC) will have a rare opportunity to see one of the most significant accomplishments in the history of Israeli Cinema: all three parts of “The Amsalem Trilogy”—To Take a Wife, Shiva, and Gett—will be shown on Tuesday Nov. 3 in the order in which these three films first appeared on Israeli movie screens.

Audiences were introduced to “Viviane Amsalem” (Ronit Elkabetz) and her husband “Eliahou” (Simon Abkarian) in 2004 in To Take a Wife (Ve’Lakhta Lehe Isha). To Take a Wife was so low-budget that I don’t even think it was ever available in American theatres. I only saw it myself when it was released on DVD. That was at the end of 2009, after the success of Shiva in 2008. But by the time Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem was released last year, Ronit Elkabetz—who not only stars but also co-wrote and co-directed all three parts in collaboration with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz—had become an international “shero” to women all around the world.

In 2014, the Israel Film Academy named Gett “Best Israeli Film of the Year.” It went on to receive a prestigious Golden Globe nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Then the National Board of Review (USA) named it one of the Top Five Foreign Language Films of 2014.

So I strongly urge you to see all three parts with us at the AMC Northbrook Court on Nov. 3—yes, I will be there in person too—but if you simply cannot make it, then consult the summary I have posted on my blog so you can participate in the conversations that are sure to follow each time a set of credits roll.

“The Amsalem Trilogy” screenings occur midway through an excellent line-up that runs from Wednesday Oct. 28 through Sunday Nov. 8. This year, the CFIC team has also added a bonus day on Sunday Nov. 15 at the Marcus Chicago Heights Cinema (a new venue for khaverim in the South Suburbs).

New Filmmakers

This year’s new filmmaker to watch is Lee Gilat, the writer/director of Encirclements. Encirclements is a magical film about a boy selected to carry a Torah around his neighborhood on the Simchat Torah holiday. In a spare 90 minutes, Gilat creates a rich, dense, and thoroughly believable community. This is a masterful debut from someone with theatrical and television credits, who has now turned to feature films. Brava!

New Stars

Naruna Kaplan De Macedo stars as “Myla” in Is That You? She looks a bit like Zooey Deschanel, thus priming the audience to expect another “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” character. But to their credit, screenwriters Dani Menkin and Eshkol Nevo have given “Myla” her own poignant and complex arc, and Naruna Kaplan De Macedo totally holds her own in scenes with Alon Aboutboul (who I named Best Actor last year for his starring role in A Place in Heaven).

Kudos also to the four young actors in Encirclements, Agam Ozalvo as “Aharon Ninio” (the boy who carries the Torah) as well as Noa Astanjelove, Shay Elkayam, and Omer Hazan who play his neighbors in the Vaknin family (“Aliza, “Tami,” and “Meir”). Shout-Out to Gilat’s Casting Director: These kids are terrifically talented, and I expect to see more of all four of them in future.

Best Feature Film

The Best Feature Film of 2015 is The Farewell Party, a Black Comedy about a group of friends facing their last years together in a Jerusalem retirement community. Filmmakers Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon—who co-wrote and co-directed together—dazzled me with their ability to walk the razor's edge between comedy and tragedy. The humor is so totally Jewish through and through that I’ll bet Sholem Aleichem was “up there” somewhere laughing through his tears too.

This year—for the first time—I am also adding a Best Screenplay category in honor of Is That You? Ostensibly this is a road movie with many genre tropes, but the dialogue is so beautifully written that sometimes I found myself gasping as I watched. Although his name is not in my press materials and it is not on IMDb, I detected the name of award-winning Israeli novelist Eshkol Nevo as the credits rolled, and then it all made sense.

Kudos to director Dani Menkin for finding collaborators who could help him write the perfect words for his perfect cast. Then add a shout-out to composer Issar Shulman for his lovely musical score (which is augmented by songs chosen personally by Menkin and melded together by Philip Gozlan’s sound design).

Best Documentary

Silicon Wadi is a superlative doc about four Israeli Start-Ups. Two teams will succeed and two teams will fail, but as the film moves into its third act, I challenge you to guess the winners. This is one of the most riveting 82 minutes ever captured on film, and I was frankly stunned by the outcome. I commend all four teams for their courage in allowing filmmakers Daniel Sivan and Yossi Bloch to keep their cameras rolling through all the ups and downs. And I compliment the filmmakers on their inventive camera moves and musical choices. At one point, contracts fly around a conference room table while Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (the music associated with the English words “On October 31 when the sun goes to rest…”) build from a whisper to a roar on the soundtrack. Everyone in the room is too busy signing to speak, so it is the music that carries the message. Yowza!

Best Actor

This was the toughest category to call this year, but in the end, after seesawing back and forth, my choice is Ze’ev Revach for his portrayal of “Yehezkel” (yah-hezz-kul) in The Farewell Party. We first meet Yehezkel during a late night telephone call with his friend "Zelda" (Ruth Geller). Yehezkel--a fixer who is always tinkering with new contraptions—has created a voice box to amplify his sound because he wants Zelda--who is bedridden--to believe she is speaking directly to God. Since Zelda thinks God is now personally watching over her, she is finally able to go back to sleep. But Yehezkel stops laughing when "Yana" (Aliza Rosen) calls. Her husband Max is in terrible pain, so Yana throws herself on Yehezkel's mercy. Can he invent something that will release Max from his agony? And so it begins…

The runner-up in this category—of course—is Alon Aboutboul, who stars as “Roni” in Is That You?

Best Actress

My pick for 2015 is Assi Levy who stars as “Rosa Ninio,” the mother of the boy who carries the Torah on Simchat Torah in Encirclements. Assi Levy is one of Israel’s greatest actresses, best-known for the role of “Aviva” in Aviva My Love (for which she won an Ophir Award in the Best Actress category from the Israel Film Academy in 2006). Her grace, gravitas, and quiet strength as Rosa Ninio moved me beyond words, and now I will never forget the moral of the story of the princess and the golden feather.

Best Supporting Actress

Levana Finkelstein co-stars as Yehezkel's beloved wife "Levana" in The Farewell Party. Although Yehezkel always covers for her, Levana’s memory problems have reached a critical point. A proudly creative cook, Levana keeps urging her beloved granddaughter “Libby” (Mia Katan) to eat, but when Libby finally spits out a cookie in disgust, Levana suddenly realize she has used salt instead of sugar... It is a devastating moment for Levana, and for the audience as well.

Best Supporting Actor

One might assume that Lior Ashkenazi (a major Israeli star since his breakthrough role in Late Marriage in 2001) would be the male lead in Encirclements, but no. In this case it’s not that he has graciously stepped aside for young Agam Ozalvo who plays his son Aharon—the boy who carries the Torah—but more that his character, “Bezalel Ninio,” has willfully absented himself from daily life as lived by his son Aharon and his wife Rosa. And so—playing Bezalel—Ashkenazi is not quite a fully drawn character in Encirclements, but more like a dark shadow in the background.

And this brings us full circle, back to “The Amsalem Trilogy.” If you have only seen Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, you are unlikely to have much sympathy for Viviane’s husband “Eliahou” (Simon Abkarian). Why is he so stubborn? Why won’t he give her a divorce after so many years of first emotional, and then physical estrangement

Encirclements is a more gently-told film, without any of the rage at the status quo which propels Gett, and yet the two husbands have much in common as characters. If only the compassionate Rabbi played by Uri Gavriel in Encirclements had served on Viviane Amsalem’s Rabbinical Court, maybe things might have turned out differently for Eliahou too.

For a complete schedule (including information on ticket purchases), visit the CFIC website.


Documentaries: Highly Recommended

The Polgar Variant

Silicon Wadi

Documentaries: Recommended

East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem

Farewell Herr Schwartz

Guardians of Remembrance

Narrative Feature Films: Highly Recommended

The Amsalem Trilogy


The Farewell Party

Is That You?

Narrative Feature Films: Recommended


Apples from the Dessert


NOTE: Three short features and six TV episodes are also on the schedule, but I have not seen any of them yet.

For a complete schedule (including information on ticket purchases), visit the CFIC website.

This is the 10 th Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, and Jan Lisa Huttner-who now lives in Brooklyn-has covered many of them for JUF News. Jan thanks the CFIC Committee for enabling her to perform this annual labor of love, and hopes to see old friends and new at the AMC Northbrook Court on Nov. 3.


JUF Post: 9/25/2015

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CFIC ’15: Top Picks

Here is my list of TOP PICKS for this year's 2015 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema (CFIC)

Best New Filmmakers: Lee Gilat for Encirclements
Best New Star: Naruna Kaplan De Macedo of Is That You?
Best Feature Film: The Farewell Party
Best Screenplay: Is That You?
Best Documentary: Silicon Wadi
Best Actor: Ze’ev Revach of The Farewell Party
Best Actress: Assi Levy of Encirclements
Best Supporting Actress: Levana Finkelstein of The Farewell Party
Best Supporting Actor: Lior Ashkenazi of Encirclements

The 2015 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema (CFIC) opens Wednesday Oct. 28 and runs through Sunday Nov. 8.

This year, the CFIC team has also added a bonus day on Sunday Nov. 15 at the Marcus Chicago Heights Cinema (a new venue for khaverim in the South Suburbs).

For a complete schedule (including information on ticket purchases), visit the CFIC website.

Click HERE to read my full post in the October issue of the JUF News.

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CFIC ’15: Top Docs

Highly Recommended Documentary Films in this year's 2015 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema (CFIC)

1. The Polgar Variant
2. Silicon Wadi


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CFIC ’15: Top Features

Highly Recommended Narrative Feature Films in this year's 2015 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema (CFIC)

1. The Amsalem Trilogy
* Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
* Shiva
* To Take a Wife
2. Encirclements
3. The Farewell Party/
4. Is That You?

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My Top Feature Film of CFIC '15 :-)

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