Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lies My Father Told Me

(Jan Kadar, 1975)
In an obvious effort to balance the sentimentality inherent in the child's-eye view of Yossi Yadin's saintly Zaida, old European master Kadar (and lefty control freak Ted Allan, who wrote the Oscar-nominated script from memory) surround him with some really obnoxious people. Of course you expect the nosey neighbour to be a harpy for comic effect, and the unrepentant whore and laid-back Leninist who also share the courtyard are sympathetic as well as shrill. But the father - oy, the father. As played by Len Birman, this 98-pound Jake LaMotta is a severe test even for Yadin's stoic patience, so you can imagine his effect on the audience. Endlessly hustling doomed get-rich-quick schemes and grotesquely self-dramatizing when they collapse, espousing "modern" virtues as he spews invective against savages, offering an ongoing crash course in bad parenting, this character has no redeeming features, and he takes up a lot of space. With his boneheaded blather seeping infernally through the paper thin walls, he not only perfectly evokes the experience of living at close quarters with people you can't stand, he contextualizes Zaida's gentle Orthodoxy as a spiritual refuge from an intrusively nightmarish reality. No wonder cute kid Jeffrey Lynas goes into hiding in the heart-freezing ending - he's lost his buffer, and he's basically fucked. Up to then his cute inquisitiveness plays out in curious discord with his surroundings - hard to tell whether the general abrasiveness was intentional or a tonal miscalculation, but the result is pretty fascinating although or because it gets on your nerves.

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