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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
It's pretty tough to build a realistic set of the Lower East Side, New York City, 1896. The Godfather films did the best they could. When directors shoot the distant past of our great grandfathers, they usually shoot in tempera hue antiquing the scenes, so we feel we are looking through a time machine. In the case of Joan Micklin Silver's, Hester Street, she shoots with black and white stock. All I'm saying, audiences won't believe it is the past without a newsreel or spooky tempera projection.
The documentary feel to Hester Street, the authentic clothing and dialect, the old Russian to English dialect fills the viewer, especially Jewish filmgoers with a weird sense of nostalgia since no one today, in 2006 is alive to tell the immigrant story. The poverty, crowded conditions, popular prejudices, and alienation were a fact of life. It is amusing that these immigrants assimilated, learning English, building jobs, and business within two generations; all hardship forgotten consciously, but I would assert, not unconsciously.
Carol Kane, Gitl, is a wonderful young country wife flabbergasted by the modern, secular ways of America. Her husband, actor, Steven Keats has left the greenhorn, religious Jew nonsense behind as he takes on a new girlfriend, a hottie for her day. His wife arrives with child unexpectedly thwarting his plans. Keats rejects her old world ways. Waiting in the wings is a boarder, a religious man that admires Gitl. A simple plot, no, but satisfying.
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