Friday, December 6, 2013

Romeo And Juliet In Yiddish DVD Review

Romeo And Juliet In Yiddish (2011) stars Malky Weisz, Lazer Weiss, Eve Annenberg, Mendy Zafir, Josef Freidman. It was written and directed by Eve Annenberg. 

The film opens with Faigie and Rivke, two sisters, talking about how their mother wants Faigie to get married. Faigie says she’s not really her mother. Rivke says she wants Faigie to get married too, so that she can then have her room. Faigie throws a copy of Romeo And Juliet at her (the Folger version), and Rivke exclaims, “You’re not supposed to be reading this.”
Then we cut to Ava’s home, where a few young men arrive and ask her which play they’re doing. She tells them: “Romeo And Juliet. Not too original, but I guess it’s never been done on television in Yiddish.” The men are not familiar with the play. It’s not taught in their community. We go back to earlier when Ava is told to do the play as a condition of her scholarship. She’s told: “You don’t have to translate it. Just contemporize it.” Then: “Do you know that most Yiddish-speaking young people today never heard of William Shakespeare?” She’s reluctant to take on the project. But the man tells her: “You’re Jewish, you should like this. Seriously, Ava, this is the world’s greatest love story. Enjoy it. Imagine yourself in it.” (That’s interesting, as the writer/director has put herself in it, as she plays Ava. Then Ava puts herself in the play as the Nurse. This is also interesting, as both the character Ava and the writer/director/actor Eve are nurses.)
Ava gives the key to her apartment to some odd patient who has been released but has nowhere else to go. He explains to us, “Hospitality is required.” Also, he believes he has magic. (Throughout the film, magic sparkles fly from his fingers, but the effect is unclear, as are his intentions. Sometimes the magic signals a switch to the play, but not always.)

Act I

We then go back to the men helping her with her Yiddish, and Ava telling them about the play. And we go to the first scene of the play, but in contemporary New York, beginning with Gregory’s line, “The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.” Rather than “Tis all one,” Sampson replies, “It’s all one thing.” (This part, of course, is in Yiddish.)
The film returns to Ava and the boys, who tell her the Orthodox fight among themselves. And because that’s how they understand the play, that’s how we see it. Romeo’s family are Satmer (those with side curls), while Juliet’s family are Chabad (no side curls). Lazer (one of the young men) says, “I want to be Romeo. He sounds like an idiot.” And so he plays Romeo. The Benvolio/Romeo scene takes place on the subway.
Ava explains to the boys who Paris is, and we get a bit of Act I Scene ii, beginning with Paris’ line, “Younger than she are happy mothers made.” Act I Scene iii takes place in the kitchen of the Capulet home. The Nurse refers to Paris as “a cute guy.” As usual, Juliet seems quite a bit older than thirteen. We have some of scene iv, including, surprisingly, some of the Queen Mab speech. Though it’s done as a sort of rap, with different lines, like, “She trips over the lips of rabbis and they dream of charities.” The party at the Capulets’ home is Purim. When the boys enter, the music stops. They say, “We’re only pretending to be Satmer.” This scene, where Romeo and Juliet meet, has a definite dreamlike quality. Juliet says only “My only love sprung from my only hate” before the Nurse asks, “What’s this? What’s this?” Juliet answers, “A rhyme I learned.” But since she spoke only the first of the four lines, there is no rhyme.

Act II

For the balcony scene (Act II Scene i), Juliet is at the window by a fire escape. She says, “Romeo, Romeo. It had to be ‘Romeo?’” Perhaps that is because people don’t seem to know what “wherefore” means. It seems like she’s looking down at Romeo early in the scene before she should be aware of his presence, which might be confusing for those unfamiliar with the play. The scene is interrupted, going back to the young men, with one of them asking, “Why doesn’t she want him to be like the moon? Because it gets really big only once a month?” It’s kind of a funny joke, but works only by cutting Juliet’s next line, which of course answers his very question. So it’s a bit of cheating, really, doing that joke.
Isaac is the Friar (though called Rabbi), and he does mention Rosaline.
Act II Scene iii takes place just outside of an amusement park. Act II Scene iv is cut, which is a shame – I love that scene. We actually see the wedding scene, and there are others present for it. And there is the breaking of the glass and other traditional Jewish elements.


Act III begins with a noise complaint. Tybalt and Mercutio fight with metal pipes.
Suddenly two of the boys have to leave, and they tell Ava no one cares about Shakespeare in Yiddish anyway. She tells them, “You’re so fucking Shakespeare, you have one foot in the sixteenth Century.” Really? I’m not feeling that at all. She says, “You’re such passionate people.” But we haven’t seen that at all from them. And it’s her Master’s work, so she should be doing the work herself anyway. The boys have taken her credit cards, and charge hotel rooms and massages to her. They do keep reading the play, however, and discussing it among themselves. This coincides with Romeo’s banishment.
We then go to Act III Scene v, and Romeo sneaks into Juliet’s room, and they have sex under white sheets, on white sheets, and with white sheets hanging in the background. It actually looks really cool. To keep Romeo from leaving in the morning, Juliet gets on top of him. Instead of “Mantua,” she says “Manhattan.” We don’t really see Juliet’s reaction to Romeo agreeing it’s not day, which is a shame. Juliet’s mom tells her she’s to be married to Paris.

Act IV

Then we go to Act IV Scene I (though Paris is cut from the scene). The conversation between Juliet and Friar occurs in a stairwell. Act IV Scene ii is cut. Scene iii begins with Juliet’s “Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again.” Her speech is presented mostly in extreme close-ups. She gives the line “Looking for Romeo, who did spit his body upon a rapier’s point,” though in this version Romeo hit Tybalt over the head with a metal pipe.

Act V

Act V begins with Romeo waking in Manhattan. Balthasar is Peter in this version. Romeo finds the Apothecary in the street, and the Apothecary says “New York law” rather than “Mantua’s law.” The Rabbi calls Romeo, but Romeo has left his cell phone behind. Paris is cut from Act V Scene iii, and Romeo enters the tomb unimpeded. Romeo takes a gulp of the poison, but there is still plenty left for Juliet. But when she takes the bottle, it is empty. After “this is thy sheath,” the movie cuts to Lazer on the beach taking out a little packet of drugs. His two friends find him, but can’t wake him.
Ava is then talking to herself about her stolen credit cards and tearing up pages of her work. The boys bring Lazer into her home since she is a nurse. She revives him, and he tells her he didn’t like how Romeo And Juliet ended.
Then we cut back to Juliet about to stab herself, but her cell phone stops her. She answers the phone and is told that Romeo’s drugs were diluted, so he’s not dead after all. Romeo then breathes.
And suddenly everyone shows up in Ava’s home, including Faigie, who turns out to be Ava’s daughter. She also played Juliet in the play sections of the film. Lazer, upon seeing her, says he now believes in love.

Time: 91 minutes.

(Note: I posted a more general review of the film on Pop Culture Beast.)

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