Aug ’06 Spotlight

The surprise hit of this summer is The Devil Wore Prada, which grossed over $80 million in domestic box office receipts in its first three weeks and will have topped the magic number ($100 million) by the time you read this column. Jewish audiences, however, might wonder if the two main characters, so clearly identified as Jewish in the book, are also supposed to be Jewish in the film. To answer this question, I tracked down Prada’s screenwriter, Aline Brosh McKenna. “I’m Jewish on both sides for centuries and my father is Israeli,” she told me. “The director [David Frankel] is also Jewish, and so, of course is Lauren Weisberger (who wrote the book). But I just felt like that wasn’t what this story was about.”

Aline describes Prada as “kind of a romance” between Andy Sachs (played by Anne Hathaway) and Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep). “Everybody’s been that young person in the workplace for the first time; to succeed; you have to understand what the rules of that world are, and I think that’s true no matter where you work.”

Next up for Aline? “David and I are adapting another book called I Don’t Know How She Does It, and I’m also working on Sophie Kinsella’s novel The Undomestic Goddess.”

For more see my chat with Aline:

http://www.films42.com/chats/Aline_Brosh_McKenna.asp

COMING SOON

Two Israeli films will play in downtown Chicago this month, whetting our appetites for the two-week “Chicago Festival of Israeli Films” scheduled for September. First up is Saint Clara, a 1996 feature directed by Ari Folman and Ori Sivan. Saint Clara is set in a high school named after Golda Meir, and Golda’s famous image, which is everywhere, becomes the favored target of mildly subversive student attacks. There’s nothing subtle here; the film’s just a gently amusing teen comedy. Next comes 2004’s romance Something Sweet (Mashehu Matok) directed by Dan Turgeman (who also plays the lead). Both are perfect choices for low-key summer evenings.

The Saint Clara screening, scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 2, is part of the City of Chicago’s “Sister Cities International Films Series.” For additional information, visit:

http://www.chicagosistercities.com.

The Something Sweet screening, scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 30, is part of Cinema/Chicago’s “International Summer Screenings Program.” For additional information, visit www.chicagofilmfestival.com.

CURTAIN CALL

Gold Coast resident Joan Levin took a Yiddish language course at Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies several years ago and fell in love with mamaloshen (“the mother tongue”). She followed up with a summer program at Oxford University, more classes at Spertus, and a trip to Vilnius; then, four years ago, she began a Yiddish language program at KAM Isaiah. The class shrinks and swells around the nucleus of her eight original participants, but as the class begins its fifth year mamaloshen is thriving in Hyde Park.

Last month I attended a screening of Onkel Mozes, one of three films offered in Joan’s summer film series (which has been open to the general public for the past three years). Released in 1932, Onkel Mozes was one of the first Yiddish talkies ever produced as well as one of the first Yiddish stories set in America. Maurice Schwartz not only stars, he also wrote the screenplay (based on the theatrical version of Sholem Asch’s novella he staged in 1930). Schwartz, best known to contemporary audiences as the director and star of Tevye (released in 1939), takes the lead again as Moses Melnik, a poor boy from the Polish shtetl of Kusmin who makes good in America. Although I haven’t seen a lot of Yiddish films, I have seen several, and Onkel Mozes is the first one that totally absorbed me as a drama, without reference to its historical or scholarly dimensions.

“Yes, Onkel Mozes is a wonderful film,” agrees Joel Berkowitz, chair of the Judaic studies department at the University at Albany, founding editor of the online newsletter “Yiddish Theatre Forum,” and contributor to the new collection Sholem Asch Reconsidered (edited by Nanette Stahl). Even though it’s only available now in a scratchy VHS version, I still recommend it. Here’s hoping the National Center for Jewish Film puts Onkel Mozes on its DVD restoration ”hot list” soon.

Originally published in 1917, Onkel Mozes was one of the first books Sholem Asch wrote. A Passage in the Night, published in 1953, was one of his last. In between, Asch created a body of work which made him the first Yiddish language author to be nominated for a Nobel Prize. Spertus has a VHS copy of Onkel Mozes as well as an extensive collection of Asch’s published work. For more information, contact them at www.spertus.edu. If you don’t want to wait for a DVD, you can purchase a VHS copy of the film from the NCJF: www.jewishfilm.org.

TZIVI’S DVD COLLECTION

“Uncle Moses had never known a real childhood…he left the country one day, escaped across the frontier, and came over the ocean on a cattle boat, without a ticket…with two rubles in his pocket, he arrived in America—and now he was Moses Melnik, owner of the largest menswear business in the Bowery…”

Uncle Moses is a mensch with a problem, a problem surprisingly similar to the one Adam Sandler has in his new film Click. Life may well be easier now, but the stress of making it in “di goldene medina” can still carry a huge cost. I found Click both thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying, but my favorite Sandler movie to date is still Spanglish. Reviews of Spanglish were downright hostile last year, with many critics throwing verbal darts at Tea Leoni for her performance as Deborah Clasky (the high-strung uber-shiksa wife of Adam Sandler’s Jewish mensch, John,” but it was obvious to me that, despite her questionable methods, all Deborah wants is what’s best for her daughter Bernice (beautifully played by Sarah Steele).

In this particular case, the problem lies in the culture, not in the mother. John Clasky may be quick to console his daughter, but that doesn’t let him off the hook. Writer/director James L. Brooks clearly wants audience members to contrast John’s words with his actions: why did John chose Deborah for his bride in the first place? In all his movies, Adam Sandler wears his Jewish identity gracefully. He neither hams it up nor dumbs it down, and for this he has both my admiration and my gratitude.

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.

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