Jerusalem Film Festival 2024: Jennifer Jason Leigh

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A tribute to the actor Jennifer Jason Leigh at the 41st Jerusalem Film Festival will include the screening of four of her films: Margot at the Wedding, The Hateful Eight, Existenz, and Georgia. Leigh will be presented with an Achievement Award at the opening ceremonies of the 41st Jerusalem Film Festival on Thursday, July 18, 2024.

Jennifer Jason Leigh/Photo courtesy of PR

Leigh once said in an interview for The Guardian “I would much rather be in a movie that people have really strong feelings about than one that makes a hundred million dollars but you can’t remember because it’s just like all the others.” A look at some of the roles for which she is best known soon reveals that this is an approach that has led to striking performances and depictions of diverse, unforgettable characters. Although her first major role was in the teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High as 15-year-old Stacy Hamilton who tries to navigate the treacherous waters of teen romance, Leigh managed to avoid being typecast as a “pretty young thing.” Instead her filmography features characters with complexity and depth, some on the dark and troubled end of the human spectrum, but she can also flex her comedy muscles, as in her role as fast-talking tough reporter Amy Archer in the Coen Brothers’ 1994 film The Hudsucker Proxy, and in the same year, as the clever, edgy, Dorothy Parker.  She is known for her total commitment to a role, going down to 86 pounds for her depiction of a teenager suffering from anorexia in The Best Little Girl in the World (1981). She lost significant weight again for her role as Sadie Flood in Georgia (1995), one of my favorite films, whose screenplay was written by Barbara Turner – Leigh’s mother, and is one of the four films which will be shown at the festival. Leigh plays the drug-addicted, would-be rock singer younger sister of Georgia (Mare Winningham), a successful country singer. For her heart-wrenching, riveting portrayal of Sadie, Leigh went down to 90 pounds, and sang all her songs in the film. I last saw the movie years ago, and I can still hear that painfully beautiful rendition of Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More.

In Existenz (1999), written and directed by David Cronenberg, Leigh stars as Allegra Geller, a famous game designer, who is attacked while presenting her latest creation – eXistenZ, a virtual reality game. As the only copy of her game may have been damaged, Geller decides to test it, entering the game with publicist Ted Pikul. Set in the year 2030, the film features biotechnological devices that have replaced electronic ones and the game pods have “UmbiCords” that attach to “bio-ports” that are surgically connected to players’ spines. For afficionados of elegant body horror.

Margot at the Wedding (2007), written and directed by Noah Baumbach, centers on the havoc of a family wedding, as Margot (Nicole Kidman) attends the wedding of her sister Pauline (Leigh). Uptight writer Margot is dramatically different from her more free-spirited sister, and all the underlying tensions of a difficult relationship rise to the surface over the event-filled weekend. Jack Black stars as Pauline’s fiancée Malcolm, and John Turturro as Jim, Margot’s husband.

The Hateful Eight (2015), written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, is a revisionist Western set sometime after the American Civil War. An odd assortment of eight strangers, all forced to seek refuge from a blizzard, gather in Minnie’s Haberdashery. Among the group are bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is handcuffed to his latest catch, “Crazy” Daisy Domergue (Leigh), whom he is taking to Red Rock to be hanged. For this role, Leigh received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. As I wrote in my review of the film: “What makes Daisy truly wonderful is Jennifer Jason Leigh. She is a versatile actor who radiates tensile strength and seductive power, capable of maintaining a duality that inspires revulsion and admiration in the same breath. Even in chains, bloody bruised, Daisy Domergue is never vanquished. She may be evil, manipulative and violent to the core, without a moral bone in her body, and racist to boot, but she is strong, smart, and compels one’s admiration.” Leigh sings here too.

The Jerusalem Film Festival will take place from July 18 – 27, 2024. The full program will be available on the festival website.

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