Baruch Mayr, son of an orthodox rabbi from a poor shtetl in Galizia, decides to break with the family tradition and leave the shtetl to become an actor. Due to this behaviour his father ...
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Baruch Mayr, son of an orthodox rabbi from a poor shtetl in Galizia, decides to break with the family tradition and leave the shtetl to become an actor. Due to this behaviour his father bans him from his family. Baruch, who joined a small burlesque troupe is discovered by an Austrian Erzherzogin (archdutchess) who introduces him to the director of the most important Theater in Vienna, the Burgtheater. Baruch receives a contract there and becomes more and more an assimilated jew. But his relation with the Erzherzogin isn't approved by the Austrian court, so they have to end it. When an old friend of his father, who is always traveling from one Jewish community to the next (and has told him first about the theatres in the world), Baruch becomes a little bit homesick and returns for a holiday to his old shtetl to see his folks and to pick up his childhood sweetheart. But his father wants him not to enter his house, so he returns to Vienna, with his bride. But his old friend does not stop... Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
I saw 'This Ancient Law' (subtitled 'Baruch') in October 2007 at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy; they screened a print from the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin. The print had a running time of 107 minutes; I could have cut out 15 minutes without losing any of the plot.
IMDb's detailed synopsis of this film is accurate. However, for some reason IMDb's cast list identifies two different actors (Fritz Richard and the great Werner Krauss) as playing Nathan, the professor. Herr Richard does indeed portray that role in this film; Werner Krauss is not listed in the film print's credits, and I did not spot him anywhere in this movie.
This film is apparently based on the memoirs of Heinrich Laube, who was director of Vienna's Burgtheater in the 1870s. I haven't read those memoirs, but it's not uncommon for a showman to 'improve' his autobiography. Several events in this film seemed rather contrived to me, and the assertion that they were ostensibly based on a true story only annoyed me further.
A major problem with 'This Ancient Law', at least for modern viewers, is that the movie's basic conflict is very similar to the one in a movie made four years later, and now much better known than this one: 'The Jazz Singer'. Baruch Mayr is a rabbi's son with greasepaint in his blood: will he forsake the ancient Jewish ways for the glamour of showbiz, or will he find some way to exist in both worlds?
I was intrigued by the depictions of 19th-century German circus life, which I assume are accurate. Character actor Julius Brandt gives a poignant performance as an elderly performer who is aware that his big break will never come; his only option is to carry on performing in small-time venues until he dies. The photography by the great Theodor Sparkuhl is up to his high standard.
Henny Porten is very pretty in a role which I found contrived and implausible. At this point in her career, Porten often produced her own films. That may explain why some sequences in this movie seem to be placing Porten's character at the centre of the plot when it's clear that Baruch Mayr is really the focal character. Mayr is played by the bland Ernst Deutsch; I wonder if Porten intentionally chose such a bland actor so that her own performance would not be upstaged.
Since I'm not Jewish and I wasn't raised in a Jewish environment, I don't have an instinctive feel for the Judaic traditions and duties which are so crucial to this story. I tried to empathise with the young Jewish hero of this film, and I was able to do so intellectually but unable to do so emotionally. Perhaps if I had never seen 'The Jazz Singer', I might have been more impressed by this movie. As it is, my rating for this one is barely 5 out of 10. It could have used Werner Krauss.
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