It's an excellent week for imported movies, with a trio of new releases arriving on American screens. "Kadosh," one of the rare Israeli productions to gain widespread attention beyond its native country, deals pungently and poignantly with complex intersections of religious and political thought. "Not One Less," directed by Chinese master Zhang Yimou, takes a low-key look at issues of youth and education. Last but far from least, "Kirikou and the Sorceress" tells a timeless folk tale in an atmospheric African setting.
Kadosh - directed by Amos Gita, today's best-known Israeli filmmaker - focuses on deeply rooted conflicts between personal and political concerns. Rivka is a Jewish woman whose inability to bear children threatens her marriage to an ultra-Orthodox man. Although her husband doesn't want to break up their household, his rabbi argues that childless marriages must be ended if Israel's great "enemy" is to be defeated. The enemy he has in mind is Israeli Jews who oppose ultra-Orthodox rule for their nation. These Israeli Jews will become a political minority if Orthodox families have lots of offspring as quickly as they can.
Rivka's experiences are echoed by those of her sister, Malka, who has tried to please her family by marrying a devout but unfeeling man who treats her with appalling insensitivity. Gita handles his potentially melodramatic material with unfailing taste and compassion, encouraging his audience to think long and hard about the moral dilemmas his film intelligently explores.
Not One Less begins in a rural Chinese town, where difficult living conditions bring extra challenges to everyday tasks like education. When the local teacher goes on leave, there's nobody to replace him but a 13-year-old girl. She's determined to earn the additional pay promised if none of her 28 pupils becomes a grade-school dropout. When a mischievous 10-year-old vanishes, she goes to the nearest city in search of the elusive kid.
"Not One Less" recalls one of director Zhang's greatest films, "The Story of Qiu Ju," starring Gong Li as a woman who travels from her home to seek justice in a criminal case. "Not One Less" has the same documentary-type style, and goes a step further by filling the cast with people who have never acted before. This lends authenticity to the film, which benefits greatly from the natural-born charm of its performers. The movie displays less verve and imagination than its predecessor, though.
The animated fantasy Kirikou and the Sorceress comes from French filmmaker Michel Ocelot, who based it on a West African story. The hero is a very small but very wise youngster who helps his village overcome a dangerous witch by ridding the woman of her own inner pain. The animation is striking, employing nudity that suits the African setting without diminishing the dignity or propriety of the characters. Many times more African than "Tarzan" and "The Lion King" combined, "Kirikou and the Sorceress" is one of the best movies so far in this very young year.
*'Kadosh,' not rated, contains sex and other adult material. 'Not One Less,' rated G, has no questionable content. 'Kirikou and the Sorceress,' not rated, contains nudity.
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