Codes Unknown

The Royal Navy needs Jericho to redecipher the German code before the Nazis sink the convoy of American supply ships. Fortunately, that problem requires less than half his giant brain—leaving the rest to investigate missing Claire in the company of her all-too-readable roommate, Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet, courageously playing dowdy). Jericho evolves from cerebral ditherer into resolute action hero—able to leap onto moving boats and trains and elude cops through his daredevildriving. He even confounds the smooth spy master (Jeremy Northam, in the movie's drollest performance), who wafts through the plot, fanning the flames of mystery.

Enigma is reasonably fun to watch. The editing is elliptical, with much crosscutting between the green fields of Bletchley Park and the gray swell of the North Atlantic. Britain's boho brainiacs wrestle with the code even as U-boats gather and Hester, working on her own, comes to a realization. Adding to the cosmic simultaneity, the Germans are shown broadcasting from a mass grave on the Eastern front. Moving quickly on two tracks, Enigma doesn't coddle the audience. But neither does it play fair. The narrative takes several fast turns and stops short with the sudden introduction of new material; the exposition is hurried and lazily predicated on characters' thinking aloud.

British historians were justifiably upset several years back when the Hollywood submarine drama U-571 credited Americans with breaking the Nazi code. But Enigma has come under fire for similar reasons. Patriotic Poles point out that it was their compatriots, not the Brits, who captured the Enigma machine. Along these lines, the movie adds insult to injury, but I'd be betraying the movie reviewer's code if I told you why.

A dream of impossible symbiosis: Parmentier and Testud in Murderous Maids
photo: Rialto
A dream of impossible symbiosis: Parmentier and Testud in Murderous Maids

Details

Murderous Maids
Directed by Jean-Pierre Denis
Written by Denis and Michèle Halberstadt, from L'Affaire Papin by Paulette Houdyer
Rialto
Opens April 19

Enigma
Directed by Michael Apted
Written by Tom Stoppard, from the novel by Robert Harris
Manhattan Pictures International
Opens April 19

The Second Annual Brooklyn Jewish Film Festival
BAM Rose Cinemas
Through April 22

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The second edition of the Brooklyn Jewish Film Festival features two of the most popular documentaries of recent years—Aviva Kempner's feel-good The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1999) and Sandi DuBowski's agonized Trembling Before G-d (2001)—each, in its way, an evocation of Jewish heroism. Less known but equally deserving, Joel Katz's Strange Fruit (2002) provides a history of the haunting protest ballad associated with Billie Holiday but written by left-wing Jewish schoolteacher Abel Meeropol. Another offbeat music doc, Pierre-Henry Salfati's Jazzman From the Gulag (1999), follows the unique career of trumpeter Eddie Rosner from Weimar Germany and '30s Poland to his apotheosis and ruin in Stalin's Russia. Richard Broadman's neighborhood oral history Brownsville Black and White(2000) has a particular Brooklyn resonance.

Jewish film festivals tend to be stronger on documentaries than on dramatic features: The main examples of the latter are the rueful Israeli comedy Yana's Friends (1999) and a pair of vintage Yiddish-language features screening as an accompaniment to the Yiddish actor-saga The Komediant.



Related Story: "Queen of the Damned: Sylvie Testud Gets in the Pressure Cooker" by Jessica Winter

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