Aside from the occasional 2012 Oscar hopeful, the cineplexes are looking pretty ghastly lately, full of artless slashers, plodding action films and asinine comedies. Just as Abraham Lincoln preyed on vampires last summer, Hansel and Gretel are now hunting witches, the latest bit of lazy postmodern mythology to open on a thousand screens today.
But we don’t have to sit through this stuff, right? We’re not sheep. There are enough of us out there who enjoy a little grown-up fare at the movies, and for more than a week now, the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival has been screening dozens of documentaries and features for adults, at theaters throughout the county. I only caught one of them, a touching Israeli drama called “Family Time,” which screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at Regal Delray Beach 18. Unlike a lot of titles that premiere at festivals, this one deserves a longer shelf life and a proper theatrical release, proffering an approach that is both specific to Israelis and universal to the rest of the world.
Director Nitzan Gilady has been making important sociopolitical documentaries for more than a decade, but in “Family Time,” he looks inward – filming a weeklong trip from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon, with his mom, dad and two brothers. The presumption that anyone would want to sit through a glorified family travelogue quickly dissipates as we begin to understand the family – what makes each member tick, and what sets them off on tangents. Their interactions are funny, sarcastic and loving, until they grow hurtful and distressing. One son, like most Israelis, completed his mandatory military service as a medic, and he’s been haunted by post-traumatic stress disorder ever since. Another son has suffered two divorces and can’t seem to achieve a stable life.
And Nitzan, who handles most of the cinematography, is a gay actor-turned-director, and his sexuality has always been a problem with his staunchly conservative father, who, more than once in an explosive argument in this film, calls his son “mentally ill” and “a disgrace to the family.” Dad comes across very badly here, but those in his generation will understand his viewpoint, even those who have already “evolved” in their acceptance of homosexuality.
Through it all, the trip brings this family of Yemenite emigrants and their disconnected offspring closer, their dormant emotional baggage finally expressed. Issues of culture, race, identity and of course sexuality are raised and re-raised as the motor home traverses Arizona, and the movie’s thesis statement, expressed by one of the sons, seems to be “Of course I love him, but he’s annoying sometimes.” Families have worse problems, or lesser problems, than the Giladys, but we’ve all shared that sentiment at one point of another.
“Family Time” concludes in a way that some might consider too favorably, punctuating the road trip with a happy period rather than an uncertain ellipsis. Perhaps Nitzan deliberately looked to patch things up for the purposes of the documentary’s narrative. But I bought it, because family is family, and it’s hard to hate each other for too long without hating yourself. And nobody wants that.
“Family Time” screens at 2 p.m. Sunday at Regal Delray Beach 18 and 2:30 p.m. at Cobb Downtown in Palm Beach Gardens. Tickets are $10 adults and $5 children. Call 561/736-7527 or visit palmbeachjewishfilm.org.