On December 10, Harold Pinter became the eleventh Jewish writer to receive a Nobel Prize for literature, joining a distinguished list that includes Saul Bellow and Isaac Bashevis Singer. I called Tel Aviv University Professor Linda Ben-Zvi, a contributor to the recently published PINTER AT 70: A CASEBOOK, to ask what, if anything, made Pinter’s work “Jewish.” “Pinter’s plays reveal elements of his Jewish upbringing in two ways,” she replied. “First, the sense of fear and menace that pervades most of the works may well have sprung from the World War II years. Second, his characters often speak using cadences and rhythms associated with Jews, and he has his characters answer questions with questions, a trait of Jewish dialect and humor.”
In BETRAYAL, for instance, there are seventy-five questions just in the first scene alone. BETRAYAL has three main characters, a woman named Emma, her husband Robert, and her lover Jerry (who is Robert’s best friend). Here’s a quintessential Pinter exchange that exemplifies Professor Ben-Zvi’s point.
Jerry: How’s Robert?
Emma: When did you last see him?
Jerry: I haven’t seen him for months. Don’t know why. Why?
Emma: Why what?
Jerry: Why did you ask when I last saw him?
Considered one of Pinter’s masterpieces, BETRAYAL was made into a brilliant film in 1983 starring Patricia Hodge as Emma, Jeremy Irons as Jerry, and Ben Kingsley as Robert. “In BETRAYAL, said Professor Ben-Zvi, “the banal is no longer merely a cover or pretext for some more menacing reality. The banal has become the menace.”
Marital infidelity is also the theme of Woody Allen’s new film MATCH POINT. I confess that Allen’s recent work had so disappointed me that when the familiar opening credits appeared on the screen (stark white letters on a plain black background, set in Allen’s distinctive Windsor font), my heart sank. But surprise: MATCH POINT is terrific. Although MATCH POINT’s plot outline sounds very much like Allen’s 1989 classic CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, it’s actually much better. Once again, an ambitious man is caught between his wife and his mistress, but this time all the characters are more nuanced. Claire Bloom as the wife in CRIMES was too patient and understanding, seemingly blind to her husband’s lies. But Emily Mortimer, as the wife in MATCH POINT, is much more cunning. On the other hand, Anjelica Huston, as the mistress in CRIMES, was such a nudge that Martin Landau had to murder her for our sake as well as his own, but Huston’s MATCH POINT counterpart, Scarlett Johansson, is so voluptuous and vivacious that we grieve with Jonathan Rhys Meyers and feel the full weight of all the years he will mourn her loss. Furthermore, Allen has finally taken his own distractingly neurotic persona off the screen, focusing his considerable narrative skills on telling the tragic story of one specific triangle. Maybe one day he’ll be Nobel winner number twelve? MATCH POINT opens in Metro Chicago on January 6.
While you’re waiting, make sure to order tickets for Chava Alberstein’s February 1st concert at the Symphony Center on Michigan Avenue. This year, Alberstein, one of Israel’s greatest national treasures, will be appearing with LES YEUX NOIR, a French sextet lead by two Jewish brothers, Erik and Olivier Slabiak, who meld Klezmer with Roma and Jazz into a wildly distinctive world music stew. I first heard of them three years ago, when National Public Radio did a feature on their new album BALAMOUK. I ordered BALAMOUK immediately and play it frequently. Follow this link to read more about Alberstein’s 2003 concert at the North Shore Center in Skokie:
I was in the audience that night. Alberstein was wonderful, and the seats were completely sold-out.
Sunday November 20, I spent the day at the Highland Park Theatre taking in “A Taste of Chicago’s Festival of Israeli Cinema.” This new event, co-sponsored by the American-Israeli Partnership for the Arts and the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest is intended to replace the annual Israel Film Festival organized by Meir Fenigstein in Los Angeles. Chicago’s one day festival was more than a taste, it was a feast, with a well-programmed mix of drama and comedy that lasted from 11:30 AM to 11:30 PM. Donna Yates, the event coordinator, asks us all to reserve time next September, from 9/7/06 through 9/17/06, for a full program, and Kim Cooper from the Consulate promises there will be more to sample in the interim.
For updates, visit: www.chicagofestivalofisraelicinema.org
TZIVI’s DVD COLLECTION
One of the best films of 2005 played at festivals and special screenings, including the one I attended at Facets last summer, but never opened in local theaters despite a huge cast of “name” actors including up-and-comers like Jamie Bell, Camilla Belle, Justin Chatwin, Rory Culkin, and Lou Taylor Pucci, as well as Boomers like Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Allison Janney, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Rita Wilson. But on January 10, THE CHUMSCRUBBER will be released on DVD, so watch for it.
THE CHUMSCRUBBER was directed by Arie Posin, a young man whose parents fled the Soviet Union, so protecting the American Dream is serious business for Arie. When I called him in LA for details, he told me his father’s gravestone carries the words “Your children are free.” “His name was Moshe in Hebrew; it was always a family joke, a joke but with a hint of truth, that he was the Moses of our family because he brought all of us out.”
Unfortunately, audience response to THE CHUMSCRUBBER has been mixed, but Arie remains philosophical: “Well, you know, when you make satire, not everyone is going to get it.” Nevertheless, “America was literally a beacon to my parents, and when I see someone or something messing with that image it concerns me deeply,” he continued. “The ideals that America represents, we must not forget them. I don’t think that there’s a simple answer. I’m very wary of both political parties. But I think that communication is the first step towards finding our way through it. There’s nothing that gets me as passionate as getting people talking about these ideas.”
For more of my interview with Arie, visit: www.films42.com/chats/arie_posin.asp
© Jan Lisa Huttner (1/1/06)
Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah (Jan Lisa Huttner) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com.