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SCHWARTZ DYNASTY (Shoshelet Schwartz)(director/writer: Amir and Schmuel Hasfari; cinematographer: David Gurfinkel; editor: Zion Avrahamian; music: Raviv Gazit; cast: Miriam Zohar (Miriam Schwartz), Tal Friedman (Avraham “Bomba” Schwartz), Ania Bukstein (Ana), Yehuda Levi (Avishai Schwartz), Dov Navon (Pinchas), Vladimir Friedman (Dr. Alexandr Alexandrov), Sharon Elimelech (Ziona), Amos Lavi (Rabbi Eliyahu); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Moshe Danon; United King Films; 2005-Israel-in Hebrew with English subtitles)
“It’s worth its weight in kreplach.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A compelling tragi-comedy involving two beleaguered Jewish families in a West Bank settlement town in Israel that’s co-directed and co-written by Schmuel Hasfari and his nephew Amir Hasfari.

Some fifty years ago Rabbi Yekutiel Schwartz, from a family with a long tradition of producing rabbis, founded a small West Bank town and was the head of the religious council, but was accused of embezzlement and committed suicide. His shamed wife Miriam Schwartz (Miriam Zohar) now tries to clear his name and make it possible to be buried in the holy cemetery next to her beloved husband. According to Jewish law suicide is a sin and therefore he’s buried outside the cemetery’s fence in a special section for sinners.

The beautiful blonde Ana (Ania Bukstein), whose father is Jewish but her mother is a goy, is visiting from Russia carrying an urn of her late father’s ashes, as she wishes to grant her father’s request to be buried in the holy land in sacred ground. Ana is staying with her uncle Dr. Alexandr Alexandrov (Vladimir Friedman), her father’s atheist brother who was a surgeon in the old country but is not allowed to practice in his new homeland of Israel. Alex married a nagging but attractive Israeli Jew named Ziona (Sharon Elimelech). They run a small butcher shop that is non-kosher, therefore it arouses so much anger among the intolerant ultra-Orthodox that some of their children routinely break the store windows by tossing rocks at it and are praised by their elders. To get her case heard before the religious council headed by the Orthodox Rabbi Eliyahu (Amos Lavi), Ana poses nude as a model for a group of artists to save up enough money to bribe a religious insider to argue her case before the religious council. But inspite of his help she is denied permission, as they want proof that’s her father in the urn and that he’s a Jew. They demand that she get his brother Alex to be a witness, but he refuses because of his own rigid anti-religion convictions.

When Miriam runs across Ana, she connects with her plight and schemes to help her. Both ladies are thwarted by the restrictions of the Jewish law and draw solace from each other over their need to fight a lonely battle for their demands. In the meantime Miriam’s 24-year-old grandson Avishai Schwartz (Yehuda Levi), a lazy pothead who works occasionally as a cantor and a Bar Mitzvah teacher, who sings like a bird, falls madly in love with Ana but shows his true uptight colors by acting upset of her modeling gig and of her walking around town in a mini-skirt. Avishai’s father Avraham “Bomba” Schwartz (Tal Friedman, popular Israeli TV comedian),an obnoxious fumbler but not without some charm, is running for political office on the National Religious Party ticket.

How things get resolved when the two families intertwine and all their hare-brained schemes are introduced play out as not as interesting as the study of these offbeat characters.

Despite the film’s contrivances and need to connect all the dots in such a plodding and unconvincing melodramatic conclusion, it’s worth its weight in kreplach because it paints a fairly accurate picture of Israeli life and is an engaging depiction of both an Orthodox and secular Jewish family. It received nominations at the 2004 Israeli Film Academy for Best Actor (Tal Friedman), Best Supporting Actor (Yehuda Levi) and Best Supporting Actress (Ania Bukstein). But it seemed strange that Miriam Zohar received no mention, especially since she gave the most moving performance in the film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”