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Fantastic Fest 2018: “Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club” Review

Do you enjoy the dark and horrible fantasies of The Brothers Grimm? Guilhad Emilio Schenker’s “Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club” can be added to your collection of films that may have been inspired by the Grimms. Schenker, who directed the film and co-wrote it with Yossi Meiri, was inspired by a dinner date with a friend to tell this story.

“Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club” follows Sophie, a member of the aforementioned club, and her friend Hannah, who is part of the Sanitation Department that serves the high society ladies of the club. While the club is centered around the reading of literature, there is actually a much darker objective at play: each woman in the club must bring a man to dinner, and the woman who brings the best man is rewarded. What happens to the men? They’re…expendable.

Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
Sophie brings a man | Courtesy Transfax Films

Hannah has been helping Sophie find men to bring, but when Hannah goes missing, Sophie is on her own and finds that she is no longer good at convincing men to join her – especially handsome men. There is also a younger, much vainer member of the club who wants to take Sophie’s place as the most rewarded woman in the club’s history. Things get really interesting when Sophie falls for a man – an absolutely forbidden act for a woman in Madam Yankelova’s club. In addition to coming to terms with her own feelings, Sophie must also battle with herself over whether she should bring the man to a club dinner. Which is more worth it: love or accomplishment?

Despite being written and directed by men, “Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club” delves into many topics that are specific (mostly) to women. Among these are aging and beauty, jealousy and competition and wanting acceptance, both from men and from your fellow women. Each of these topics is handled with delicacy as a theme, even when the characters in the film act much more brash. Additionally, the premise of the film involves murder but Schenker shies away from showing too much violence.

This movie is a great dark fantasy, with elements of a mystery or thriller as well; it’s reminiscent of the style of Guillermo del Toro. In the director’s own words, Israeli cinema lacks films that are not dealing with reality, and this movie proves just how active Schenker’s own imagination is. It will be exciting to see what he does next.

“Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club” made its international premiere at Fantastic Fest, but it is not yet clear when it will be available to watch widely in the U.S.

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