Monday, January 07, 2013

NYJFF ’13: The Ballad of the Weeping Spring

Musicians hate requests.  Yosef Tawila is particularly disinclined, but he cannot refuse the dying wish of his former friend and band-mate.  However, he will have to recruit some high caliber Mizrahi musicians to play the ambitious title symphony and time is running short in Beni Torati’s The Ballad of the Weeping Spring (trailer here), which screens during the 2013 New York Jewish Film Festival, co-presented by the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Tawila has not touched his tar since his glory days in the Turquoise Ensemble.  Riddled with guilt, he is not a man who wants to be found.  Nonetheless, Amram Mufradi tracks him down, bearing the Weeping Spring score.  His father Avram is quickly succumbing to lung cancer and wishes to finally hear the extended composition he co-wrote with Tawila, as it was meant to be performed.

Unfortunately, Tawila cannot simply get the old band together again.  Two members died in a car crash he was found responsible for.  Their singer Margaret is now confined to a wheel chair, but she passed on her talent to Tamara, the daughter Tawila never knew.  That is hard recruiting stop for the absentee father to make, but Mufradi and the young singer hit it off rather well.  For the rest of the band, it just a matter of haunting the right dive bars and red light districts.  In one case, they will have trouble with a blind flutist’s Fagin, but people just seem to want to help the Tawila level his karma.

 While not essential for cineastes, Weeping Spring could easily be the biggest hit at this year’s NYJFF.  There is plenty of camaraderie, redemption, and some elegant music, but Toraty never excessively milks the sentiment.  In fact, the father-daughter rapprochement is surprisingly matter-of-fact and the attraction between the second generation Turquoise musicians is mostly hinted at.  Of course, it ends with a big emotional concert, but again Toraty resists overplaying his hand.

Looking like the weight of the world rests on his shoulders, Uri Gavriel (the blind prisoner of the pit in The Dark Knight Rises) has gravitas to spare as Tawila.  Established Israeli pop-star Ishtar displays a warm cinematic presence as Margaret and her voice nearly steals the entire show during the big climatic concert.  For the most part, the large supporting cast of actor-musicians look appropriately colorful and slightly seedy, except for Dudu Tassa (seen during last year’s festival in Iraq ‘n’ Roll), here very earnest and clean-cut as young Mufradi.

While dubbed a Mizrahi Magnificent Seven, Weeping Spring actually includes an obvious riff on Marion Ravenwood’s drinking contest from Raiders of the Lost Ark, so it has that going for it.  A modest but appealing drama with a striking soundtrack, Ballad of the Weeping Spring should have a long and fruit life on the festival circuit and in specialty distribution.  Sure to be a crowd pleaser, it screens this Saturday (1/12) and Thursday (1/24) at the Walter Reade Theater as part of this year’s NYJFF.