Ida – sp We are pleased to report that for some unknown reason there are a number of readers of this blog who are from Poland. So we hope we will get some comments at the end of this review from them. This movie won The Eagle, which is the Polish equivalent of the American Oscar. It is in Polish with English subtitles. We understand it is also dubbed with the local language rather than using subtitles in many European countries, as it was in France, where is was a big hit. The setting is Poland in the 1960s. A young woman who is studying to be Nun in a convent is told by the Mother Superior that before she takes her vows she must go and meet her aunt, her only known family member (previously unknown to her) since she was brought to the convent as a baby during the war. She travels to the city where her aunt is located and finds out that she is Jewish. The two of them set off on a haunting road trip to find out what happened to her parents and where they are buried. The aunt, played by veteran Polish actress Aguta Lulesza, is tough as nails on the outside but has her own secret pain which is ripping her apart. Ida the novitiate, also known as Sister Anna Ida, and now with a last name Lebenstein, is played by a first time actress who was discovered in a coffee shop by the director. Her name is Agata Trzebuchowska. She is beautiful, and now burdened with a dilemma of what to do with her new insight into her origin. She also has to decide whether to go forward and take her vows, which of course includes chastity. It should be mentioned that on her road trip she does meet a handsome musician (David Ogrodnik) and we do detect some chemistry between them. The ambience of this film befits the subject matter. It is in black and white using a 4×3 format (almost square) with many close-ups. The locations are old bleak buildings, churches, a cemetery, and old roads with a lot of snow. The dialogue, although in Polish with subs, is sparse. There is a Polish 60s musical background that is mostly ambient rather than with a soundtrack. There are reminders of the role of communist rule in post war Poland. Everything is not spelled out for the viewer but there is little doubt about the story and the internal pain that our characters are feeling. It will awaken feelings about atrocities in WW II, which are still not far from the surface in many people, some now two generations removed from it. Although director and screenwriter Pawel Pawlikowski in a post film discussion said he had no doubt about how this 80 minutes film should end, there is another point of view on this subject. Finally, this movie is one of many films that have a theme which shows the immense struggle that people have to connect with a biological parent or vice versa. A discussion and summary of this issue can be found at http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/ (2014)
Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness-rm – If you only knew that Solomon Rabinowitz alias Sholem Aleichem had originated the story of Fiddler on the Roof, “that would have been enough.” However this documentary attempts to show how this creative Jewish writer born in Russia in 1860 singularly chose to use Yiddish, which was basically a spoken language of the shtetl and make it a literary form to educate and entertain thousands if not millions of people in Europe and the new world during most of his life time (and beyond). Yiddish was the special language of the Jews consisting of mixture of German, Russian, Hebrew and probably a lot more. It allowed more expression of feelings, especially humor and it was experienced as the language of the people. This fact plus the insight into the struggles and emotions of the people about whom Shloem Aleichem chose to write in a very prolific manner, made his writing very popular. This was the period of time when people living in their small enclaves began to migrate to the cities as well as across the ocean to America. When he died in 1916 there were more than 100,000 people at his funeral in New York which not only was viewed as a tribute to him but as a demonstration of the emerging Jewish culture in the new world. This documentary while emphasizing his place as a writer and as a Jewish icon also provides some insight into the ups and downs of his life style, which included being a stock market speculator who ultimately failed in his financial dealings. It shows somewhat of a picture of his family life as a dedicated parent although it doesn’t say much about his wife and his marriage. The visual story is made mostly with archived photos of the people of his time including what seemed to be a repetitive photo of him along with a few video clips- the most riveting being the one from Fiddler. This is an enlightening view of a person about whom so many of us have heard, but don’t really know. If it has not been done yet, a fictionalized version of this story with the details flushed out even more with some imagination, if necessary, will make a fantastic feature film. You can start speculating on who should play the lead. (2011)
Jews and Baseball rm- An American Love Story- You don’t have to be Jewish or a baseball fan to get something out of this well done documentary. However, the more you fit into these categories, the more you will want to be sure that you catch up with this film. Every Jewish kid should get a DVD of this film for his or her 13th birthday. It is written by Ira Berkow, Pulitzer Prize winniing author and directed by Peter Miller. There are interviews with baseball greats and people who knew them. There are also personal comments by people such as Larry King, Ron Howard and Dustin Hoffman The emergence of Jewish baseball stars, mirrors the story of the Jewish immigrants being able to partake in the American dream. The difficulties that these baseball heroes encountered spotlight the anti-Semitism that festered in the United States. The film also makes a point of showing that the problems that these Jews had in taking their rightful place on the baseball diamond were not very different than the next group had in challenging the discrimination barrier in this game. This latter point was illustrated in an incident that happened at the tail end of Jewish icon Hank Greenberg’s baseball career during the rookie year of Jackie Robinson. Robinson was trying to beat a base hit when he collided with Greenberg who was playing first base. As the two highly competitive players brushed themselves off, Greenberg gently offered Robinson good luck in dealing with the resistances, which he knew Robinson, would experience as the first black baseball player. The film tells the stories with interviews of the pioneer Jewish ball players in the major leagues. One such player is the legendary Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger Sandy Koufax, who will be known forever for pitching four no hitters and also skipping a crucial World Series game in order to attend Jewish high Holiday services. This movie also profiled a budding Jewish baseball player whose name we sadly don’t recall because he only had one major leagues at bat during which time on the first pitch he was hit in the head and suffered a severe concussion. After months of recovery he is still struggling in the minor leagues hoping to come back to major-league baseball with the hope of living his dream. This movie is about the baseball dream that many Jewish kids have had and a select few have realized but it is a dream that every kid understands.
* * * *
A Serious Man – rm – This Coen Brothers film is a painful comedy, which takes place in a Minnesota Jewish community in 1967. Larry Gropnik, played by Michael Stuhlberg is a midwestern physics professor who is trying to be a good guy and a devout Jew. He feels all is as it should be with his children and his wife as well as his with his quirky brother who lives with them. He is preparing for his son’s bar mitzvah, believes he properly handles a student who doesn’t like a final grade and deals with the everyday problems of neighbors and TV reception. But then his life begins to unravel. Everything seems to be going wrong and although he seeks the wisdom of three rabbis, none are in a position to explain how Hashem – the word for God – could let this happen. Joel and Ethan Coen who have written, produced and directed this movie have captured the period with the houses, cars, synagogue and dress as well as the essence of the characters. If non-Jews created the film, they might even be called anti-Semitic. The Coens have satirized these Jews and their values to the point of a mockery. The opening of the movie shows us a brief scene in an 1800s European Jewish shtetl where the beliefs and values of the people living there would have been viewed as ridiculous to the Jews of the 1960s, as many now will view those of the people portrayed in this movie. Each generation can look back at their parents and grandparents and question how they lived their lives. In the end, whether the Coens meant it this way or not, we realize that this movie is about all cultures and about every serious man and woman’s search for the meaning of life when things begin to go wrong. This film will give you a lot of laughs but it is not a fun movie to watch. (2009)
* * * * *
Defiance – sp – This is a “Schindler’s List” type of movie which takes place in the forest. It features Daniel Craig (known elsewhere as the current James Bond) and Liev Schreiber who play the Bielski brothers who lead an increasing number of Jewish refugees while they are hiding from the Nazis. This is a true story and at it’s conclusion we are told the actual follow-up on many of the people depicted in the film. Edward Zwick, who spoke at our screening, was the director, producer and also wrote the screenplay. He did a magnificent job in capturing the relationship between the characters, the pathos and courage of the people along with the violence of their experience. Those of you who have vowed “never to forget” will have to see this movie. 2008