Moishe Szelewiansky is happily dancing to a band playing Mariachi-tinged Klezmer music when he has a sudden heart attack, and thus begins My Mexican Shivah (Morirse esta en Hebreo), a wonderful new film playing in this month’s Chicago Latino Film Festival line-up. A pillar of Mexico City’s Jewish community, Moshe ben Yehuda emigrated from Poland in 1936. His home town, Vielun, was the first place the Nazis bombed on the first day of World War II. But that was years ago, and Moishe’s daughter Esther is soon contending with a full house as grandchildren, great-grandchildren, old lovers and lifelong friends congregate for the full seven days of traditional mourning.
My Mexican Shivah is an artful blend of farce and philosophy. People come to Moishe’s funeral obsessed with private problems, but as the yahrzeit candle melts away, immersion in Jewish ritual has a purifying effect. Director Alejandro Springall, working with writer Jorge Goldenberg, lovingly crafted his screenplay based on a novella by Ilán Stavans, and Jacobo Lieberman composed the lively “klezmariachi” music on the soundtrack. Most of the dialogue is in Spanish, but all of the prayers (which are numerous) are in Hebrew, and two elderly Hassids function as a Yiddish-speaking “Greek chorus.”
Although director Springall is a relative newcomer, he’s studied at the feet of a master. He worked on both of Indie icon John Sayles’ Spanish language productions (Casa de Los Babys and Men with Guns) and Sayles is one of Shivah’s executive producers. Like the best of Sayles’ films, Shivah has an enormous cast, every member of which is imbued with felt life. Even as the final credits begin to roll, it’s easy to believe that the characters we’ve met on this journey, major and minor alike, all have arcs that will continue on, even though we won’t be watching. That’s our loss!
See My Mexican Shivah on Monday, April 14 at 6:30 PM or Wednesday, April 16 at 9:00 PM. Both Shiva screenings will be at the Pipers Alley Theatre in Old Town. Also recommended is the Chilean film El Brindis (To Life) playing on Friday, April 11 at 6:30 PM and Sunday, April 13 at 8:30 PM at the Landmark Century Center in Lincoln Park. To order tickets, visit www.latinoculturalcenter.org.
ALSO COMING SOON: BOOKS
World-renown artist Judy Chicago will be speaking at Women and Children First bookstore located at 5233 North Clark Street in Andersonville on Tuesday April 22.
As I explained last year when CUNY Professor Gail Levin came to Spertus to read from her book Becoming Judy Chicago: A Biography of the Artist, Chicago was born Judith Sylvia Cohen. In 1970, though, she rejected both her birth name and her married name (Judy Gerowitz), choosing her new name because “friends tended to identify her as ‘Judy from Chicago’” based on her distinctive accent.
After years in transition, Chicago’s best known work is now on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum’s new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, and Chicago has just published a book about it called The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation.
Her WCF appearance, scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM, is free and open to the public, but space at WCF is limited, so arrive early if you want to be sure of a seat. For more information, visit www.womenandchildrenfirst.com.
ALSO COMING SOON: THEATRE
Based on the incredible success of their first production back in June ‘06 (which received ten Jeff Citation nominations and won four), Timeline Theatre Company is staging another revival of Fiorello!. With lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock (the duo who helped to create Fiddler on the Roof), this musical version of the life of legendary New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony award after its Broadway premiere in 1959. Harnick, who came to town last month to headline a benefit for the Timeline folks, polished up some lyrics for the new production. So even if you’ve seen Fiorello! before, you’ve never seen THIS Fiorello!.
The new production opens on April 17 and runs through June 18. For tickets, call 773-281-TIME (8463) or visit www.timelinetheatre.com.
APRIL 17 – JUNE 15, 2008
Tal Grinfas-David from Emory University’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel came to Spertus on February 24 to lecture on “A Century of Israeli Music.” She began by asking audience members how they defined Israeli music. Response from the mostly middle-aged participants focused on folksongs from the ‘60s, but after reminding us that Israel had been engaged in “ingathering of immigrants from the world over for over a century,” she started with “HaTikvah” (originally published in 1886).
Tal played Eastern European songs from the turn of the last century (heavy on the accordion), songs of loneliness and separation (idealistic teenagers making aliyah in the 1920s typically left their family members behind), and odes to the land (like “Ha Eucalyptus” from the 1950s). Sometime Tal made us sing along (standing for “Jerusalem of Gold”) and sometimes she made us dance. (It was hard not to when she played a new version of “HaTikvah” with a disco beat that most of us had never heard before.) Another great afternoon at Spertus!
TZIVI’S DVD COLLECTION
When I called Michèle Ohayon to ask about her new documentary Steal a Pencil for Me, she told me: “I thought I was numb to most Holocaust images since I’ve seen them before, but looking at hours and hours of footage took a toll. And dealing with all the archival houses in bureaucratic institutions all over the world? To convince them to look a little further than the usual and to really dig, that was really hard.”
I applaud Michèle’s persistence. Some of the images in this film, particularly actual footage from Westerbork (the Dutch transit camp through which Anne Frank also passed) will astonish you. This is a story about survival under the most extreme circumstances. “It was both the hardest film I ever made and the most daunting one, but the most rewarding and inspiring.”
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.