The dark comedy “The Jews” fits a recurring theme in recent years at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival: the increasingly precarious position of French Jews.
Jewish director and co-writer Yvan Attal stars as a Jewish actor and filmmaker named Yvan who is obsessed with Jews, Judaism and anti-Semitism. More than anything, he struggles to understand why his fellow Frenchmen seem to range from denying to embracing the Jew-hatred rampant in their country.
Most of Attal’s scenes are sessions with his Jewish therapist, connecting his character with the tradition of neurotic Jewish funnymen. But being paranoid doesn’t mean no one is out to get you, and vignettes connected to Jewish stereotypes drive home the idea that in France and elsewhere, Jews’ fears are justified.
Examples include the revelation that the anti-Semitic husband of a Marine Le Pen-like political leader is Jewish (illustrating that Jews are everywhere); the plight of a loser who can’t believe he’s Jewish (because all Jews are rich); a Mossad plot to use a time machine to kill the infant Jesus (because everyone hates us for killing Jesus); and a French referendum to convert en masse to Judaism (because Israel and the Jews succeed).
Some of the scenes are farcical, as when the fascist leader hurls invective at himself in the mirror after learning that he’s Jewish and when the Mossad assassin is hailed as the Messiah in moments that are straight out of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.”
But the movie is not a mere farce, and the darkness often blots out the humor because Attal’s point is not to make light of French anti-Semitism. He aims to confront it in the most traditional of Jewish ways, by piercing it with laughs, and his search for an optimistic conclusion requires a journey through doom and gloom that would not work on the high-speed TGV train.
It’s a trip well worth the ticket.