A Hunky Jew in Tunisia


villa-jasminVilla Jasmin Basically, with some minor exceptions scattered here and there, you seldom find really hot Jewish males depicted in film before Paul Newman took on the Brits and the Arabs in Exodus (1960). (We're talking characters here, not actors.)

Nowadays, finding a cute-as-a-button kosher hunk in the media is no longer like hunting down a four-leaf clover or a dream apartment on Craig's List, yet there's still room for improvement.

Aiding this cause was The 13th New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, which ended last week after screening 15 offerings (from 14 countries) that astutely dealt with the travails and the joys of the past and present of Sephardic Jews.

The festival also showcased some very attractive Semitic heartthrobs. Villa Jasmin was one such vehicle, and Clément Sibony was its main Semitic heartthrob.

Sibony, who also played a Jew in Dad on the Run (2000), which was about a father trying to find a site in Paris to bury his son's foreskin, here portrays Serge Boccara, Jr., a Tunisian raised in France who's returning home to come to terms with his past.

Yes, with his lovely wife by his side, Serge starts scavenging the town of La Goulette for remnants of his parents' lives, both of whom died in 1957, mom from cancer and sadness a few months after her spouse's demise.

And no wonder. Who wouldn't be depressed? Handsome pa (Arnaud Giovaninetti) had been a theater director, a socialist newspaper columnist, a fighter for Tunisia's independence, a victim of anti-Semitism, a resident of Dachau, and a romantic lover.

Serge Jr. at first gets depressed by the changes he discovers in Tunisia. In a hotel restaurant, he even gets into a rage over the pasta: "I like my tongue to be on fire. The macaroni is not hot enough."

Then his wife reveals she's pregnant: "Serge, remember last week when I kept vomiting."

That news places the young man in a better mood, but he still has nightmares. Thankfully, when he wakes up in tears, he's not wearing pajama tops. Accordingly, us viewers can then view his exquisite torso as he makes love to his exquisite wife to overcome his terrors. In the following scenes, while attired in a spotless, well-cut, white suit, Serge Jr. keeps entering his dad's past and chatting with him. This sort of works in Serge Sr.'s office, but the Dachau get-together is a bit off-putting. I mean, if you are going to visit relatives who are starving and being tortured in a concentration camp, even if it's a figment of your neurotic imagination, dress down.

Made for TV and based on a novel by Serge Moati, Villa Jasmin does serve well as a primer on Tunisian history in the last century. But as a drama, it's sort of Victoria's Secret Goes Ghetto. - Brandon Judell

brandon.jpgMr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.