“Shivah” on DVD

From Jan ’09 Spotlight: In my April ’08 column, I wrote about My Mexican Shivah (Morirse esta en Hebreo), a wonderful film that received an Audience Choice Award at our 24th Chicago Latino Film Festival last year. When I met with director Alejandro Springall the day after the CLFF screening, he told me Shiva was scheduled for theatrical release “sometime in the Fall,” but apparently it only opened in New York. Thankfully it is now available on DVD, and people have told me they’ve also watched it on On Demand.

My Mexican Shivah is an artful blend of farce and philosophy. People come to patriarch Moishe Szelewiansky’s funeral obsessed with private problems, but as the yahrzeit candle melts away, immersion in Jewish ritual has a purifying effect. 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.” 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!

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