AJFF What to Watch: Films About Detectives


Real-life and fictional mysteries require a detective's skill set in these films formerly featured at AJFF's annual festival. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

24 Days
The kidnapping and torture of a young French-Moroccan Jew, and the harrowing ordeal of his family, are given a searing dramatization in this white-knuckle thriller featured at the 2015 AJFF. Abducted in 2006 on the outskirts of Paris by a multiracial gang, working-class cellphone salesman Ilan Halimi was held for ransom under ghastly conditions for more than three weeks on the theory that since he was Jewish, he must be rich. Faithfully reenacting events from the view of various characters, the story tracks the massive but futile investigation doomed by near-misses and a failure to recognize the case as a hate crime. Meantime, a parallel drama unfolds as a powerless loved ones have no choice but to put their trust in the hands of authorities, even as they are tormented by invective-laced phone calls from the captors. 

Aida's Secrets
Long-lost brothers seek the truth about their genealogy in this intensely personal investigation of identity spanning decades of complex family history featured at the 2017 AJFF. Izak and Shepsel were born in the post-war chaos of the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp, but never told of each other's existence. While Izak was sent away for adoption in Israel, his visually impaired brother Shepsel ended up in Canada, both separated from their Polish birth mother Aida. With the help of an investigator, the siblings are reunited for the first time in 65 years, before traveling together to a Quebec nursing home to meet their elderly mother and uncover the mystery of their splintered family. The tearful reconciliation closes a circle and brings some peace of mind, until further revelations raise new intrigue about Aida's past life, including the true identity of their biological father.

The Boys From Brazil
Hollywood legends Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier face off in a sinister plot to rekindle the Third Reich, in this‘70s paranoia-fueled, sci-fi thriller, featured as a classic for its 40th Anniversary at the 2018 AJFF. Hiding in South America, the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele (a scenery-chewing portrayal by Peck) convenes a covert gathering of Nazi war criminals. Tipped off by a young investigator, skeptical Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Olivier, in an Oscar-nominated role) goes to Paraguay to uncover the truth for himself. There, he discovers a horrific conspiracy to clone Hitler and unleash a campaign of global terror, culminating in an unforgettable final showdown between Lieberman and the sadistic Mengele. Based on the bestseller by Rosemary’s Baby author Ira Levin, this terrifically chilling adaptation received Academy Award nominations for Best Editing and composer Jerry Goldsmith’s ominous score.

A Grain of Truth
A maverick prosecutor finds himself dragged into the investigation of a string of ritual killings rooted in Poland's anti-Semitic past in the suspenseful detective thriller featured at the 2016 AJFF. Once the star of the Warsaw prosecutors' office, Teodor Szacki (Polish Academy Award-winning actor Robert Wieckiewicz) has ended his career and marriage to start a new life in a sleepy southeast Polish town. Seen as an outsider by the close-knit community, he faces suspicion when called in to get to the bottom of the brutal murder of a well-known social activist, her body discovered outside a former synagogue. As the trail of victims grows, and the killer remains elusive, clues point to a mysterious connection with historical myths of blood libel. Aided by a veteran police detective (Jerzy Trela), reluctant female prosecutor (Magdalena Walach), and local rabbi (Zohar Strauss), Teodor must unravel the painful tangle of Polish-Jewish relations and solve the enigmatic case while facing a rising tide of public and media hysteria. Based on the bestselling novel by Polish author Zygmunt Miloszewski.

In the Shadow
A simple jewelry store heist unravels a larger Cold War conspiracy against Czechoslovakian Jews in this stylish noir political thriller featured at the 2014 AJFF. Honest police detective Jarda Hakl (Ivan Trojan) is directed to investigate a seemingly mundane robbery at a goldsmith's shop on a rainy night in 1950s Prague. When state secret police suddenly seize control of the case and pin the crime on Jewish immigrants accused of running aid to Israel, Hakl suspects anti-Semitic scapegoating. Waging an uphill battle against both Major Zenke (Sebastian Koch, The Lives of Others), an East German agent specializing in so-called Zionist crime, and the Soviet-corrupted Czech security apparatus, Hakl is undaunted in his quest for the truth even as it threatens his colleagues, country and family. Enhanced by atmospheric lensing and period details, writer director David Ondrícek delivers a powerful denouncement of the notorious Jewish Show Trials that condemned many innocents to death during the Communist era. 

The Testament
An uncompromising Holocaust researcher uncovers a long-buried secret that casts doubt on his family history, in this drama featured at the 2018 AJFF. Meticulous in his quest for the truth, deeply religious historian Yoel Halberstam (Ori Pfeffer) is sustained by his faith and work, toiling in the basement of the Holocaust Institute in Jerusalem. Investigating the cover-up of a wartime massacre of Jews on the outskirts of an Austrian village, he stumbles upon highly classified evidence that suggests his mother (Rivka Gur) is not the woman she claims to be, a thunderbolt that undermines everything that defines him. With his personal and professional life at stake, Yoel secretly pursues the lead, risking everything—career, wife and son, even his own beliefs—to solve the historical mystery about his identify.