Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Review: A Gesheft
Sof kol sof, it's an hour and 40 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. If you don't want to read any spoilers or get any details, you can stop here.
The movie was released in December, and it's the first and only yiddish-language, "Kosher" entertainment product out there, if you don't count "Ushpizin" and the 'Yosef Shpiel' slide show/DVD and the countless 'dramatishe, talantfule' stage productions that are put on every chol hamoed in theaters around Monsey and Brooklyn.
(Incidentally, there was talk a year ago about an Israeli soap opera called "The Rebbe's Court." I don't know whether it got any traction there, and I haven't seen any episodes.)
I hate to digress, but seriously, folks. If you need entertainment on chol hamoed and the Bronx Zoo isn't kosher enough, and you end up paying $18 a pop to go see Kuppy Elbogen in a musical, aren't you giving tacit approval to the idea that entertainment is okay? Why aren't you just saying more tehillim or learning more mishnayos? How can you even go to a theater, anyway?! It's treif and tumeh!
But I digressed. Sorry.
So "A Gesheft" is the first of its kind, and it probably won't be the last. I can only hope that future productions are slightly more professional and more smooth.
I guess, especially if you're a Chasidishe yid who's never seen a movie before, A Gesheft is decent enough. But for anyone else, even the yeshivaleit who snuck into their grandparents' house to watch TV once in a while, it's full of holes and problems.
The story, in a nutshell, is this: Peretz Grossberg was a behavior problem in Cheder, so he was expelled. He grew up an amoral thief, ended up as a crooked businessman, and spends his days and nights plotting to bring down his archenemy from Cheder, Wolf Zichler. To that end, he kills Zichler's wife (accidentally), kidnaps his newborn son, and, 20 years later, kidnaps Zichler himself to prevent him from signing a lucrative contract. Wolf Zichler, in the meantime, accepts everything with love and lives a life of faith and honesty.
Circumstances intervene, as they always do, and Grossberg is shown the error of his ways. Zichler is reunited with his long-lost son, and Grossberg is arrested. Instead of testifying against him and putting him in jail, Zichler opts not to press charges, but to learn with Grossberg and allow the Torah to heal his heart and bring him back to the fold.
Now, here are my problems, in no particular order:
1. The actors aren't actors. They're regular Monsey 'balebatim' and they wouldn't know a method from a character if they tripped over it. The only players who give even slightly emotional or affecting performances are two of my friends (naturally), R' Yankel Greenberg as the Menahel, and Dovid Samet as the "young Peretz Grossberg." Everyone else in the film recites his lines woodenly. And they also pause between sentences, as if they're waiting for the subtitles to catch up.
Imagine, if you will, a scene where someone is told that his wife just died. Would you expect the husband to react in some way, other than standing straight and looking vaguely uncomfortable?
2. The music is not even terrible. It's not even laughable. It's useless and detracts from the story.
3. In some crucial scenes, the audio doesn't sync up with the video - at least in the DVD I watched.
4. In the goyishe world, lo aleinu, there's such a thing as "continuity" in a film. That means that if a scene takes place in 1965, the furnishings, home decor, cars, and clothing in the scene should reflect the time period being depicted. I understand this movie was a low-budget affair, but still. Nobody had computers with CD-ROM discs in their rooms, or flat-panel monitors, in 1965. And it wouldn't have been so difficult to move those items from the set before shooting. But in this situation, I don't think the directors or producers even thought to acknowledge that continuity is an important part of movie making.
I mean, if the audience is suspending its disbelief anyway, accepting that Monsey does not have a single woman in its environs, anywhere, they'll surely accept that yeshiva principals had closed-circuit suveillance cameras in their offices back in the '60s.
Also, when one is informed that one's wife and child have passed on, r''l, one usually makes arrangements with the chevra kadisha and sits shiva. One does not simply accept the doctor's pronouncement and go home. So in addition to suspending disbelief about secular details, we must also suspend disbelief about halacha and Jewish life. Okay. On we go.
5. The message is very negative and dangerous, in my opinion. We're expected to believe that it's asur to testify against a Jew who is 100% guilty of harrassment, kidnapping, and quite possibly manslaughter, if he's being tried in secular court. I don't think that's true, to be perfectly honest. I think it's irresponsible and horrific, and moreover, it plays right into the hands of our enemies.
I'm not a Rov. I don't know the ins and outs of mesira, dina d'malchusa, pikuach nefesh, and so on. But it feels so wrong, and so unjust, to assert that the Torah requires that we let an unrepentant criminal live in freedom and happiness.
Incidentally, the same problems are playing out now, in real life, as the "quiet, gentle avrech" Yisroel Vales is being charged with murder. I don't want to get into the complexities, but I believe that if someone is guilty of a heinous crime, they should be incarcerated for the longest duration possible, as long as they pose a threat to society. It's a simple idea, isn't it? Why am I the only one who thinks so? (www.nrg.co.il/online/11/ART1/076/454.html)
So - long story even longer - A Gesheft is not worth your time. Hopefully, the directors and producers will keep their day jobs or watch a (rachmono litzlon) goyish film or two before taking cameras in hand and shooting another negative and disappointing video.
I will, of course, watch it during an afternoon when my significant other is at her volunteer job.
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