Seret Israeli film festival is back with monster movie and gruelling story of euthanasia

The Farewell Party. Picture: Pie Films/Max Hochstein

The Farewell Party. Picture: Pie Films/Max Hochstein - Credit: Archant

Michael Joyce previews a children’s monster movie, a rock-doc about The Sparks and a moving but gruelling study of euthanasia as the pick of a week long festival of Israeli film and television with screenings across north west London this month.


Abulele - Credit: Archant

Seret, the Israeli film and TV Festival, returns for its fifth year, starting on June 19 and going on until June 27.

As well as screenings locally at Odeon Swiss Cottage, JW3, the Everyman Maida Vale and the Phoenix East Finchley, there will be showings in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.

There are 20-plus films to see over the week of screenings, ranging from Holocaust dramas (Capo In Jerusalem) to horror (Freak Out); existential comedy (Afterthought) to documentary (Mr Gaga) police thriller (The Wounded Land) to children’s film (Abulele).

The latter is a kind of ET, with a lonely boy Adam (Yoav Sadian, very Fred Savage in The Wonder Years) finding and befriending a sporadically invisible monster called Abulele, which resembles the Sugar Puff Honey Monster.

Don't Turn Your Back on Sparks

Don't Turn Your Back on Sparks - Credit: Archant

This is a slick, funny, but slightly odd entertainment.

In ET, Spielberg presented the adult world as being shadowy and menacing; he didn’t start, though, with an Israeli special forces unit on a night-time mission to track and capture an invisible enemy, or feature machine gun toting soldiers searching a school.

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The heavy handed use of the military is bizarre, as is the moment when their leader explains that the Abulele “were here long before we showed up... with time they were pushed aside.”

It’s a line that makes your ears pop up, with the expectation of some kind of subversive subtext, but the film is standard childhood wish fulfillment – the loner child whose life is changed by a non-imaginary imaginary friend.

Abulele screens at JW3.

Never Turn Your Back On Sparks is about the fans of the band Sparks, brothers Russell and Ron Mael, who you will know through the song This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, or the fact that keyboard player, the one with the Hitler moustache, was the creepiest looking man to appear on Top Of The Pops in the 70s, when Jimmy Savile was a regular presenter.

The film opens with the declaration that they are The Greatest Underrated Rock Band in History.

Rock band? Sparks? More like the prototype for every synth duo of ambiguous sexuality that followed.

Pini Schatz’s film is rooted in the idea that Sparks are an inventive, innovative band who defy convention and that their fans are the same. Schatz’s film though is the epitome of dull trainspotting fandom.

Like his hero Schatz has a caricature Teutonic look, that of the dull, humourless pedant.

So he sets out to record his appreciation of an unclassifiable band by travelling around Europe and America, meticulously recording all his meetings with Sparks fans and getting the autographs of everybody he meets.

The worst thing about the film is that it makes a poor case for going to hunt out more of their music.

At the start, comic/DJ Iain Lee says that when the band came on his radio show, he made a point of not mentioning This Town Ain’t Big Enough.

In the film the song gets played and mentioned over and over again, and frustratingly few other songs are heard. It screens at Odeon Swiss Cottage June 22 at 8.30pm.

And finally, a comedy about euthanasia. Farewell Party is being touted as a tragi-comedy and there are certainly moments of levity in it, and you are grateful for them, but mostly there is misery.

Tired of watching their loved ones being kept alive to endure long, agonising capitulations to terminal diseases, a group of tenants at a nursing home build a Kevorkian-style suicide machine to assist the death of a husband who is being eaten away by cancer.

It’s a beautifully judged, very humane film, but even with an appealing cast and attractive visuals, it is tough to watch.

All its considerable qualities don’t count for much compared with the realisation that if we manage to dodge errant buses and peekaboo heart attacks, our reward will be bed sores, incontinence and agony.

The pick of the performances is probably Levana Finkelstein as the wife who disapproves of what they are doing, and finds that her quality of life is being rapidly torn away by the onset of dementia.

Her greatest quality is a face that seems to encapsulate her whole life story.

Mostly when we look at the elderly all we can see is the old person; in her face though you can see all the way back to her youth.

It makes the realisation that all her memories are going to be taken away unbearably poignant.

The Farewell Party screens at JW3 on June 21 at 6.30pm.