24th Israeli Film Festival – Firebirds

It makes me happy for some odd reason, to be in the company of the sons and daughters of Jacob, at the Israeli Film Festival held at the Projector. Lots of warm banter, wine, thick Israeli accents, and the unison of chortles when when an inside joke unfolds in the film.

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Firebirds

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This film derives its title from the second most commonly done tattoo in the world, after the most common one: notoriously ubiquitous number code inked on condemned Jews destined for the gas chambers. Bearers of that cursed mark recollect their miracle of survival with regular gatherings to celebrate their escape. Surprisingly, this club of survivors forged together by the common horror of the Holocaust, has outsiders seeking membership. A broke old bloke who messed up his life with creditors seeks to discard his old identity, taking on a bogus identity of a Jewish refugee. His elaborate plan of surviving his remaining days include scanning through obituaries of Holocaust survivors, and crashing their funeral services to offer support to their grieving widows, claiming that he had known the deceased back in the concentration camps. What he looks for: lonely hearts and a fat bank account.  Ugly and pathetic as this bogus Romek Stein is, he manages to upkeep his facade as a Holocaust survivor, making his sneaky way into the hearts of two old ladies (also Holocaust survivors), and eventually their pockets. He even got himself a fake Auschwitz number code tattoo to back up his tapestry of lies. Ironically, the tattoo artist is pro-Nazi, and accepts odd requests like Auschwitz code tattoos for a hefty price. Anyway, what an accomplishment for a broke pointless man to snag flings with a Vocalist and an ex-surgeon.

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Romek trying his seduction tatics on the surgeon

During a face off with his two lovers, he tries to take his own life by plunging a blade into his chest twice. The third lady who plays the Vocalist’s assistant, clearly disgusted by the old man’s flirtatious and conning antics, finishes the job by cutting into his aorta and the leading man from whole drama, for the time being.

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Face off

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Amnon with his ex wife

Detective Amnon, who was charged to solve the case against his wishes, added the cool-guy factor with his dry humor,  attitude, and his fuzziness displayed to his little girl. His laid back attitude toward life and his dogged insistence to solve the case draws attention to the effect of the Holocaust in a Jew’s life. For instance, tapping into his estranged wife’s contacts to search for legit Holocaust survivors, clocking late nights scouring through Holocaust survivors linked to the case. On his laidback side, he helps his daughter tape a video account of his mother’s Holocaust experience, to which he rolls his eyes at his mother’s tongue-in-cheek fictional version, with unicorns and rainbows in the story. I could almost feel him scoffing at the murder victim for devising such despicable means, capitalizing on macabre events of the Holocaust, to get money. In addition, that reluctance to accompany his mum on boring theatre shows, late payments for child support to his ex wife, and that standoffish attitude to his demanding boss, lends an edge to his character. He has an interesting wit to join the dots and connect seemingly disparate points into a complete puzzle, sadly only lacking the evidence to prosecute 3 shrewd old women who cleaned up their tracks so artfully, without a sliver of a trace left. What could have resulted in a turnaround in Amnon’s lackluster career was wasted, and the animosity still lingers when he crosses path with the old surgeon lady, months later, at a Holocaust reunion night he attends with his mum. The thorns in their eyes, with the feisty waltz music in the background, strikes an amusing discordance.

It’s also interesting to note that the human desire for attention and flirting does not decrease with age. Some of the more intimate scenes did leave me cringing. It has nothing to do with being ageist, but rather, the disgust at Romek’s rottenness and scheming. The sagging skin and and loose chunks of flesh clinging onto bones only amplifies that grossness.