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It's 1896. Yankel Bogovnik, a Russian Jew, emigrated to the United States three years earlier and has settled where many of his background have, namely on Hester Street on the Lower East Side of New York City. He has assimilated to American life, having learned English, anglicized his name to Jake, and shaved off his beard. He is working at a $12/week job as a seamster, the money earned to be able to bring his wife Gitl and his son Yossele to America from Russia. Regardless, he has fallen in love with another woman, a dancer named Mamie Fein. Nonetheless, he is excited when he learns that Gitl and Yossele are indeed coming to America. His happiness at their arrival is dampened when he sees that Gitl is not "American" looking like Mamie and has troubles assimilating as quickly as he would like. Except to Mamie, he tries to show a public façade that everything is fine at home with Gitl. But can their marriage survive these differences, and if not, will Gitl be able to manage in this new... Written by
If you're a Carol Kane fan, and haven't seen this film, run out and rent it now (if you can find it). But don't expect the usual eccentric comic character Ms. Kane usually plays.
Filmed in black & white, this is a very atmospheric period piece about a traditional Jewish wife in turn-of-the-century America, whose husband is dissatisfied with her and wants a more modern woman. Carol Kane plays a quiet, thoughtful wife who somehow commands the screen just by sitting there and watching the selfish, thoughtless people rant and rave about her. She is a truer definition of a hero than any of the action heroes that have come out of Hollywood in the past 30 years; thoughtful, indefatiguable and irrepressible, despite the fact that she is firmly part of the traditional Jewish community where women subjugate themselves to men.
This is not an action piece; it's a character and period piece about surviving with dignity despite poverty, repression and injustice. This is the best performance by Carol Kane I have seen, not because she can't do better, but because she hasn't been given another role this thoughtful and dynamic. If she is given more roles like this in the future, she will again prove she is one of the best actresses in the country. A great film and a great performance.
Eight out of ten stars.
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