Films in fest tackle Israeli teens, Russian emigres, Mexican pals

"Over the Ocean," the first film in the series, won nine Israeli Academy Awards including best picture. The dramatic comedy tells of an Israeli family struggling with the question of where they belong: The Land of Israel to which they feel connected, or the land of opportunity "over the ocean."

Told through the eyes of the 10-year-old son, who dreams of becoming a heroic paratrooper, the film explores the battle of wills which ensues when his teenage sister becomes romantically involved with the neighborhood bully, his father dreams of closing his modest shop to become a real-estate tycoon in Canada, and his mother declares their roots in Israel too strong to sever.

A road movie with a twist, "Bye Bye America" centers on three naive characters from Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Brighton Beach who board a Polish freighter for the old country. Though well past the prime of life, the characters are full of dreams and expectations. There is Genovefa, a zaftig Polish cleaning lady; her husband Moshe, a diminutive Polish Jew; and their best friend Isaac, a sad-sack German Jew. Their ensuing adventures make it clear that "home" is elusive; in America they are immigrants, in Berlin they are Jews and in Poland they are Americans. The film features cameo roles by Josh Mostel and Bay Area comic Josh Kornbluth.

"Saint Clara," which recently screened at San Francisco's Roxie Cinema , is a surreal tale of Israeli adolescents facing classroom scandal, an Edith Piaf-obsessed teacher and a psychic.

The film centers on Clara, a beautiful Russian teenager who, in coming to terms with her own mystical powers, sends the entire seventh grade into a tailspin and incites pubescent revolution, until she realizes that her psychic advantage will last only until she falls in love.

"Like a Bride," about two young women coming of age in the '60s in Mexico City, screened at the 16th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last year.

Presented by MJCC in association with the Northern California Film Institute (producers of the Mill Valley Film Festival), the films will screen at the Lark Theatre, 549 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur.

The opening-night event will be held at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 12 at the MJCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael.

A festival pass, which includes admission to the opening night, all films and a closing luncheon with KQED radio host Michael Krasny, is $40 for MJCC members and $45 for nonmembers.

A luncheon and film preview will take place noon Friday, April 11 at the MJCC. Cost is $8 for members, $10 for nonmembers.

Tickets for the April 12 opening show are $20 for members, $22 for nonmembers.

General admission to individual films is $7, $6 for members, seniors and juniors under 18. For information, call (415) 479-2000.