October 27, 2010
‘Nora’ surprises with humor; ‘Eichmann’ a depressing tragedy
Two films of particular Jewish interest open in Los Angeles on Oct. 29, one a pleasant surprise from an unexpected source, the other an odd take on one of history’s biggest mass murderers.
An intriguing Mexican import, “Nora’s Will” could have been conceived by Sholem Aleichem or, more likely, Isaac Bashevis Singer.
The film opens with a busy balabusta — we see only her hands, not her face — setting an elaborate table for the seder. Next, she fills her refrigerator with plastic containers, each carefully labeled with the contents and instructions on how to prepare the dish.
She goes over the list of invited people, leaves instructions for the maid to help her with the cooking and orders frozen meat from the kosher butcher.
With everything prepared to her satisfaction, she takes out a few vials of pills, swallows them and commits suicide.
All this happens in the first few minutes of the one-and-a-half hour movie, whose Spanish title is “Cinco Dias Sin Nora” (“Five Days Without Nora”).
She leaves behind her iconoclastic ex-husband, José Kurtz (Fernando Luján), the central figure in the film, who takes her demise without apparent emotion, except perhaps wry resentment at being manipulated once more by his former spouse into arranging her funeral.
The timing of Nora’s departure is unfortunate. Because of the incipient Passover holiday, she cannot be buried immediately. Then her son Rubén’s plane is delayed and, to top it off, the family’s rabbi insists that, as a suicide, Nora cannot be buried in the Jewish cemetery proper.
“Nora’s Will” is touted as a “tragedy and comedy.” There are, indeed, some light touches, as when José, a militant atheist, spars with the rabbi, or lightens up to play with his grandchildren.
But mostly, the movie is a sensitive yet probing examination of mortality, how the survivors deal with a death in the family, and how many hidden mistakes and misunderstandings run through so many marriages and other relationships.
“Nora’s Will” is the feature debut of director Mariana Chenillo, and her sure touch in dealing with so complex a subject earned the film seven awards from the Mexican Film Academy, including best picture of the year.
The movie is highly recommended for Angelenos, especially the Jewish branch, whose lives are so intertwined with, yet so often distant from, those of their Mexican neighbors.
Now for the depressing news: “Eichmann” focuses on the lengthy 1960 pretrial interrogation of the man dubbed the “architect” of the Holocaust, though “engineer” may be the more accurate professional description.
The film’s main theme is the duel of wits and stamina in Jerusalem between Adolf Eichmann, the Austrian sales clerk transformed into an SS Obersturmbannfuhrer, and Eichmann’s chief interrogator, Avner Less, a Berlin-born Jew who became a captain in Israel’s police force.
More than 275 hours of interrogation has been, fortunately, compressed in the film to create an Eichmann who is neither a monstrous mass murderer, nor Hannah Arendt’s banal bureaucrat.
Rather, he is a clever and evasive defendant, who never loses his cool and parries his interrogator with considerable skill.
The deck is further stacked by casting the handsome German actor Thomas Kretschmann in the title role (he played the music-loving German officer in “The Pianist”). Kretschmann’s acting skill far outweighs those of the rest of the cast, including Troy Garity (son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden) as the interrogator.
In the first part of the movie, much is made of Eichmann as the stud, whose numerous liaisons include one with a nude blond Jewish woman and another with a nude blond Hungarian baroness.
Director Robert Young seems to have a predilection for willowy blondes, including a Jerusalem Post reporter who tries to wring an exclusive story out of Less.
In what must be one the weirdest scenes ever filmed, the SS officer and the baroness work themselves into a sexual frenzy by reciting the number of Jews, Russians and Frenchmen killed through Eichmann’s ministrations.
There are some effective side scenes, such as the fury of Holocaust survivors, who come close to storming the prison to kill Eichmann, and, more subtly, the political pressure on interrogator Less to wring a confession out of Eichmann.
A subplot shows the strain of the tense, prolonged interrogations on Less’ wife and children, while the question of whether Eichmann or Less is the more devoted family man ends roughly in a tie.
“Nora’s Will” screens at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and Town Center 5 in Encino. “Eichmann” will be shown at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.