Friday, October 23, 2015

Song of Songs (orig. Песнь Песней / Pesn pesney) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* (E. Luna) review*
Variety (G. Lodge) review

Song of Songs (orig. Песнь Песней / Pesn pesney) [2015] [IMDb] []*[]* (directed and screenplay written by Eva Neymann [IMDb] [uk.wikip]*[ru.wikip]*[]* based on the stories of the Ukrainian-born Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] [FrDatM]) played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival after premiering in 2015 film festival in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic.

It is a lovely work, but it also felt to me like a Central European (Polish / Belorussian / Ukrainian / Russian) "Dances With Wolves [1990]" as the world of the rural Jewish shtetl (village) of that part of the world (and of which Sholem Aleichem wrote about) has been decimated many times over during the past 100 years.  Some of this perhaps would have been inevitable with the more-or-less natural processes of urbanization, industrialization and economically driven emigration.  But this is the region of Czarist and post-WW I pogroms, Soviet (Stalin)-Era forced collectivization, finally where the Nazi Einsatzgruppen death squads rampaged during the first phase of the Holocaust before it was "industrialized" at the Extermination Camps like Auschwitz, Treblinka and Belzec and Sobibor.

For me, the saddest manifestation of this both human and cultural decimation in the film was that this film's spoken language was almost entirely Russian/Ukrainian whereas the language of most of the Jewish residents of the time (and certainly in Sholem Aleichem's stories) would have Yiddish, hence my characterization of the film as a Ukrainian/Russian "Dances With Wolves" which was an American film which _also_ treated the Cheyenne and Sioux Indians of the Great Plains with a lyricism that betrayed the reality that most of them, to say nothing of their way of life, have been wiped out as well).

THIS ALL SAID, this is A LOVELY FILM and perhaps even more poignantly than the American (English language...) musical Fiddler on the Roof [1971] (ALSO based on Sholem Aleichem's stories) it offers Viewers a sense of THE ENORMITY OF THE CRIME that the DECIMATION of Jewish life (both rural and urban) in Central and Eastern Europe was and THE ENORMOUS CULTURAL IMPOVERISHMENT that resulted.  Yes, at the turn of the 20th, MUCH of Central-Eastern Europe was "still Medieval," but it was ALSO STILL BURGEONING with an ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF LIFE.  ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE (and PEOPLES...) LIVED SIDE BY SIDE (and LEARNED FROM EACH OTHER, ATE EACH OTHERS FOODS, SANG EACH OTHERS SONGS, TOLD EACH OTHERS STORIES, DANCED EACH OTHERS DANCES ...).  By century's end, the same region was largely "sorted out" into "rationalized" ethnically-based mini-states with each ethnically based mini-state's ethnic minorities having been largely expelled or worse ... murdered.  This does (perhaps...) make for "simpler map-making" but the whole region has suffered enormously as a result. And which nations have become the world's superpowers?  The multi-ethnic states like the United States, the (still) Russian Federation and China (with India not far behind).  And after a century of "setting down borders" what's Europe doing now?  Seeking to erase them and become _once more_ a multi-ethnic melting pot.  Go figure ...

To the film ... set in the rural shtetl world of Sholem Aleichem's stories it basically follows the trajectory of the Bible's Song of Songs.  There's "a bride and a groom", here "a prince and a princess" Šimek and Buzya (played by Yevheniy Kogan [IMDb] and Milena Tsibulskaya [IMDb] as children and by Arsenity Semenov [IMDb] and Arina Postolova [IMDb]).  Of course, neither Šimek and Buzya are "royalty."  Instead, they grow up as neighbors in a tiny Central European, probably Ukrainian, shtetl (village)But the Bible's Song of Songs was not intended for merely royalty (and was certainly appropriated) by all since.  And there is a verdant beauty to the Central European country-side that suits the Song of Songs well, and the flirtations between children growing-up as neighbors with the ebb-and-flow of different stages of life suits this Book of Scripture well as well.

All in all, this is a lovely poetic work, like both Aleichem's stories and the Song of Songs.  Yet, underlying it is a profound sadness asking, even crying: How could a world that WAS _so beautiful_ have died SO AWFULLY / TRAGICALLY in the century past?  We know how, and we (or at least most of us) should be ashamed (asking forgiveness...).  Excellent film.

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