Now Playing! Smorgasbord of Self-Discovery at S.F. Jewish Film Festival

Still from the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival's Centerpiece Narrative '1945.' (Courtesy Jewish Film Institute/Menemsha Films)

If every movie is a journey, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival program is a veritable Rough Guide of staycation options: A summery New York romantic comedy with unusually challenged lovers. A modern Israeli rewriting of an unhappy Bible story. Bad Day at Black Rock filtered through the fresh postwar guilt of a Hungarian village. A spare Gothic thriller played out in a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem. A libidinous elderly Argentinian’s final chapter, reverberating with the echoes of the Spanish Civil War.

Still from 'A Quiet Heart.' (Courtesy Jewish Film Institute)

The five narrative movies I sketched -- the opening night film Keep the Change, Harmonia, 1945, A Quiet Heart and Subte-Polska -- offer widely differing plotlines but share an important trait: Every character knows him or herself better by the end of their journey. The native currency of SFJFF is identity -- that’s settled fact -- but it has unique nuance for every protagonist.

The lineup also includes a strong contingent of documentaries that generally focus on individual lives rather than overarching issues. The festival slogan might as well be, “Take it personally.” The SFJFF opens this Thursday, July 20 at the Castro and continues through Aug. 6 with legs in San Francisco, Albany (in the East Bay), Palo Alto and San Rafael.

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