|Index||2 reviews in total|
Sanhedrin is the story of a small Jewish community living in London
shortly after the end of WW2. The proprietor of the local boarding
house takes a new, mysterious, tenant from Vienna in Austria, and the
community is soon puzzling over the identity of the man. With the war
still a very dark and fresh thought in their minds they grab at clues
and jump to conclusions, eventually deciding that the man is none other
than Adolf Hitler, in disguise and on the run. Unsure of what to do the
community's elders form an effective Sanhedrin; a supreme court of
Jewish elders, to debate on a course of action that follows the
teachings of the Torah, with a myriad of options ranging from outright
acquittal all the way through to capital punishment, things soon get
From start to finish Sanhedrin's production values are of the highest quality, DP Billy Charlton conjures beautifully composed and lit images throughout, never degrading the film with flashy trendy angles or movements, the camera often lingers long and close on each actor's performance and each location's space, soaking the atmosphere into your memory. The sound, lighting, make up, original score and editing are all excellent, and the effort that has gone into recreating the period is incredibly impressive, the attention to costume, props, and location details totally immerses you in the time period so definite shout outs for production designer Pip Reisch and art director Kevin Eaves.
The cast are all fascinating to watch with some truly characteristic and interesting faces amongst them (some impressive experience as well), and without exception the acting is excellent, especially in the early scenes between the Austrian (Olegar Fedoro) and the Landlord (David Barnaby), though Sean Williams (the only man to defend the Austrian) is well worthy of a mention as well. The film does stutter slightly on two occasions; when the Jewish elders first meet to discuss the Austrian something just doesn't work; the dialogue never truly flows, each actor seems to be politely waiting for the other to finish which is a shame as it's an important scene, and an introduction to most of the cast. At the other end of the film a final climactic court scene which contains an essential turn of events is competently played out but again lacks some vital spark just when one is most needed; some of the acting here is shaky or in one case bordering on excessive; these minor blips are extremely minor though and barely deflect from the enjoyment of the piece.
A classically European film which focuses tightly on the characters and society within the story, Sanhedrin is an impressive piece of work by all involved; a unique and absorbing script, a wonderfully produced whole, and a mature and subtle approach from the director who lets his key cast and crew take most of the limelight. Despite little personal knowledge or experience of the Jewish community or 1945 (or most period films for that matter) I was utterly drawn in and, sadly, found plenty of parallels and relevance to the society we live in today, where the leaders of the Western and Muslim worlds seem to do little other than dole out knee-jerk religion based justice on each other.
Sanhedrin is on the festival circuit now, it has already played at Durango, Montreal Jewish, Toronto Jewish, and Ocean City, and will surely get into plenty more; this is very close to what all short dramas should be like.
- 4/5 Little Guys -
I don't know the Stoke Newington of the late 1940s, but my parents do.
The director creates a very closed and claustrophobic setting: all the
scenes take place indoors aside from the fruit & veg market stall. In
this setting we see a fascinating short story about a group of people
who jump to an outlandish and almost paranoid conclusion about a
newcomer to their world. The confusion is well set-up by the writers,
and plays out well, albeit in a rather concise form. To be fair to
them, nobody had certain proof whether Hitler lived or died until the
Berlin Wall came down, and many writers have played with this idea over
The characters are very credible - I know people like all of these figures, and couldn't help but sympathise with them. I was amused by the Rabbi's management style, but I must say that a Sanhedrin could not be convened by such a small number of people, and in order to pass a death sentence, you'd need 70 members of the court. In conclusion, I'd add that according to the Talmud, a Sanhedrin which executed somebody once in 7 years was called a "murderous Sanhedrin". Another opinion is then cited that even once in 70 years was too often. This drama is a nice whimsy, but cannot be taken as a serious statement of Jewish law. Just enjoy the idea, and then you'll smile along with it, as I did.
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