The red carpet rolls from right to left this week, as the sixth annual Israel Film Center Festival hits the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.
The eight-day celebration marks the largest international unspooling of new Israeli films. Each screening features a Q&A with visiting talent, plus there are, as the JCC’s film programmer Isaac Zablocki puts it, “a lot of receptions, we’ll all be well fed.”
Opening night is arguably the most commercial film, “Shelter,” from prolific director Eran Riklas (“The Syrian Bride,” “The Human Resource Manager”). It stars Neta Riskin (who appears in three of the festival’s movies) as a Mossad agent sent to Germany to “baby-sit” a Lebanese informer (Golshifteh Farahani) recovering from some “we have to change your face or they’ll find you” plastic surgery. The pair bond as the noose of international espionage tightens. You think you know how it will end but then, surprise, you don’t. It’s all extremely satisfying.
The screening of “Shelter” will accompany a salute to Israeli actor Sasson Gabai, a recognizable face from art house hits like “The Band’s Visit” and less lofty enterprises like “Rambo III.”
“Scaffolding” is an unusual drama in which first-time actor Asher Lax plays a dramatized version of himself. An emotional and young man in a special ed class, Asher is caught between his father’s demands to continue in the construction trade and an idealist teacher who suggests he has greater opportunities. An unexpected tragedy puts considerable spin on the story.
There’s more melancholy in “Longing,” in which a successful middle-aged man discovers, in the opening scene, that an old girlfriend gave birth, without his knowledge, to their child 19 years ago. Just as he’s dealing with this shock, there’s more: the kid just died in a car accident. What follows is the somewhat surreal road of making amends to someone you never knew existed.
More wistfulness? You got it! In “The Cakemaker” a German baker falls in love with an Israeli businessman who visits Berlin once a month. When he stops showing up, he does a little digging and discovers he died in an accident. (A theme!) The baker goes to Jerusalem to learn a little about his former lover’s life. He ends up working at his wife’s cafe and, well, this is ultimately a recipe for trouble.
The fest has some comedies, too, with the teen singing contest “Almost Famous” and the kid-friendly zoo comedy “Operation Egg.” Also, a creatively rendered documentary “Kishon” about the Hungarian-born Israeli author and filmmaker Ephraim Kishon.
The Israel Film Center Festival runs Tuesday through June 12 at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave., jccmanhattan.org/festival