Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Left Luggage (1998)

A film not to be missed!

Under the deft direction of Jeroen Krabbé, this is a stunning, moving film with wonderful, finely wrought performances by the entire cast. This film gem certainly deserves a wider audience. It is a coming of age film that also pulls back the curtain on Jewish self hate and anti-Semitism. It is also about the power of love to transform and transcend.

The film centers around a beautiful, free spirited, young woman in Antwerp, Belgium during the early nineteen seventies. A philosophy student and daughter of holocaust survivors (Maximilian Schell and Marianne Sagebrecht), Chaja (Laura Fraser) is in denial of her Jewish heritage and is totally secular in her approach to life. Her relationship with her parents, for whom she has little understanding, is strained. Struggling on her own, she is in need of a job. A friend of the family (Chaim Topol) hooks her up with a job lead, that of nanny for a Hassidic family, the Kalmans.

Desperate for help with her household, Mrs. Kalman (Isabella Rossellini), who is at first hesitant upon meeting the nubile, pants clad Chaja, hires her as nanny for her three boys. Chaja, when confronted with the lifestyle of these ultra orthodox Jews, filled with rules so alien to her own life, hesitates in accepting the position. Her heart is stolen, however, by adorable four year old red head, Simcha Kalman (Adam Monty), whose heartbreaking smile causes her to accept the position. It marks the beginning of changes for both the Kalmans and Chaja.

Through her developing affection for the shy Simcha and her relationship with Mrs. Kalman, she becomes accepting of her own Jewish identity and more understanding of her own parents idiosyncrasies, born as a result of being holocaust survivors. Chaja also learns how painful love can be, when tragedy touches her life in a way that she never envisioned. Trust me, when I say that the viewer will feel her pain, so poignant and profoundly moving is the pivotal, tragic event.

This is simply a beautiful film. Isabella Rosellini gives a an exquisite and sensitive performance as the ultra orthodox wife and mother, Mrs. Kalman, who is trying to achieve harmony in a household steeped in traditions at odds with the outside world. It is no wonder that she won the Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival for her portrayal. Laura Fraser is a sensational and delightful breath of fresh air, luminous as the gorgeous young woman, Chaja, who is struggling with her Jewish identity and her discovery that life is not always a bed of roses.

Chaim Topol is engaging as the kindly and wise family friend who quietly leads the way to Chaja's eventual embracement of her Jewish identity. Maximilian Schell and Marianne Sagebrecht are affecting as Chaja's parents and holocaust survivors, who live their lives under the torment of memories of long ago. Double kudos to Jeroen Krabbe for his wonderful direction of this film and for his fine portrayal of the uncompromising Mr. Kalman, whose personal tragedy broadens his understanding of lives not bound by the strictures of his own. Last, but not least, is the very adorable Adam Monty, whose portrayal of Simcha will break the viewer's heart.

This is a superlative, internationally acclaimed film that should draw all those interested in other cultures and those who simply love a great film experience. Bravo! By Lawyeraau

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