EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS (director/writer: Joseph Dorman; cinematographer: Edward Marritz; editors: Aaron Kuhn/Kenneth Levis/Amanda Zinoman; cast: Alan Rosenberg (Narrator), Hillel Halkin, Aaron Lansky, Ruth Wisse, David Roskies, Bel Kauffmann, Dan Miron; Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joseph Dorman; International Film Circuit and Riverside Films; 2011)|
|"Poignant first-rate documentary
on the prolific Yiddish literary figure who went by the pen name of
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Joseph Dorman ("Arguing the World") directs this poignant
first-rate documentary on the prolific Yiddish literary figure Solomon Rabinovich (1859–1916) who went
by the pen name of Sholem Aleichem and whose ongoing popular stories
appeared in the Jewish papers. He told in
real-time, for over twenty years, the life of ordinary Russian country
dairyman Tevye. These stories became
the basis of Fiddler on the Roof--the long-running
Broadway musical which opened in 1964 and later in 1971 became
the popular film.
The film chronicles the writer's birth in a shetl in the Russian Pale of Settlement in 1859 to his marriage when he was poor to a rich girl he tutored to his colorful up and down life in Kiev as a writer and player on the stock market to his two visits to America culminating in his death in 1916. His funeral rallied the entire Jewish population of NYC and was attended by some 200,000 people--the largest funeral in the city, to date. It signaled that the writer was responsible for forging a new modern Jewish identity, and he was the figure who best related to the different segments of the Jewish population and though considered a bourgeois could still rally even the non-religious radicals because of his sincere concerns for the little guy.
Through photographs, rare
archive footage, film clips, readings from his timeless stories and
wisdom imparted about Sholem Aleichem's quest from a number of stimulating scholarly
talking heads, that include his author grand-daughter Bel
Kauffmann, we see what preoccupied Sholem Aleichem in his
writings and that his lifetime concern was in how to be a Jew in the
world and not lose continuity with the past. For the traditionalist but
sophisticated author, also a cosmopolitan intellectual, he realizes
that he could live only as a Jew and felt even if accepted into another
country's society he would lose even if he won because that would mean
he couldn't be the kind of Jew he was meant to be.
Sholem Aleichem's writing in Yiddish, the first author to
do so, took place at a time of great change for Jews, who in the early
1900s migrated en masse to the United States, Palestine and Western
Europe during the Russian pogroms as their long-time anti-Semitic
enforced many hardships (such as the Jews couldn't own land). Aleichem's
greatest popularity was reached after his death, when especially his
Tevye stories were subjected to new interpretations.
Aleichem used humor to show that even in the darkest times there's
something to laugh at, as he recognized the evolving nature of the
Jewish community in the New World and realized new answers would have
to be given to some of the old questions. The profound lesson he leaves
the Jewish community, still in need of being reviewed, is that how you
answer is probably
just as important as the answer.
For the right viewer, this is a real treat.
REVIEWED ON 5/28/2011 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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