When comedian Alan King passed away last year, I thought of his sweet performance in this should-be classic. One would not expect comedy to come from a story about Holocaust survivors, but this film takes the quirks of human behavior in the wake of tragedy and puts them on display, warts and all. I haven't read Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel, but I can't imagine him not being pleased with Paul Mazursky's winning adaptation. Poor Ron Silver though, he finally gets a lead role, and almost every scene of his is stolen by one of his three outstanding female co-stars.
Lena Olin has the showiest part as a fiery concentration camp survivor. Full of passion, bitterness, and paranoia all at the same time, she puts sex back into an era normally depicted as colorless and empty. I don't want to say too much about Anjelica Huston's role for fear of spoiling the intrigue each revelation about her character brings. She pulls off several humorous moments as well. But the real revelation is Margaret Sophie Stein. As Silver's wife whom he married out of gratitude, she is not as naive as she seems, and her performance anchors the film.
This movie snuck in under the wire at the tail end of the 'eighties, and seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle of high caliber end-of-the-year movies all seeking Oscar consideration. Some feel that its Best Picture nomination was stolen by Dead Poets Society. I am one of those people. But keep in mind that this was the year that Do the Right Thing was ignored in favor of more sentimental fare like Field of Dreams. Olin and Huston were nominated for their roles, but they lost to Brenda Fricker's tour de force performance as Christy Brown's mother in My Left Foot.
It bothers me that this film doesn't have more votes. Rent it, people!!! (Or better yet, buy a copy. When you see it, you'll want to.) You'll love the characters, and it's a great film to watch after you've seen something like Life is Beautiful. It is an unusual tale, but one I am glad someone thought to tell.
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