Can 200 years of Jewish history and culture be explored in a day? Chewdaism, an ambitious documentary about Montreal’s Jewish history and culture, pulls it off.
Hosted by filmmakers Eli Battalion and Jamie Elman who provide hilarious asides throughout (mostly in Yiddish), we explore the St-Laurent Street district, or “The Main” seeing facades of old Jewish civic buildings, including a Yiddish theater. As well, the great Jewish businesses such as Steinberg’s, which became a major Canadian grocery chain, is part of the makeup of this fascinating district. There are also explorations into the Hasidic areas the city, and a frank discussion about inter- communal relations between them and their neighbors. The Sephardim also get their due in the Montreal makeup.
However, it’s the Jewish infused food scene that gets top billing. We see the 24/7, “no lock on the door,” Fairmont Bakery in action– makers of the unique and delicious Montreal Bagel; Cheskie’s Pastries where Eli and Jamie discover a “high Babka” that is worthy of a scene in Seinfeld; Schwartz’s Delicatessen and its “smoked beef”; and Wilensky’s famous “light lunch” sandwich.
Certainly the great writers–Leonard Cohen and Mordecai Richler–make their appearance (as they should, as they must), but food steals the show in this funny, beautifully photographed exploration. You’ll want to explore Montreal yourself immediately and eat the Jewish food.
The Tobacconist (Der Trafikant)
The friendship of a 17 year old Tobacco shop assistant, Franz Huchel, and an aging Sigmund Freud–no doubt the tobacco shop’s top customer–in 1939 Vienna is the premise of “The Tobacconist.” This German made film also has some other vivid, historically touched characters, such as the tobacco shop owner, a cynical World War I veteran with anti-Nazi sentiments. There are major cabaret scenes also showing a chilling, darkening, anti-semitism–outdoing even Joel Grey in its darkness. So, even with its flaws, this is a chance to view what has become the stuff of legend: what Sigmund Freud’s final days in Vienna might have been like before the exile to London. Also, this is a chance to see legendary German actor, Bruno Ganz, in his final film.
One more note: Both Chewdaism and The Tobacconist were preceded by wonderful short films. “Egg Cream,” an exploration of the origins of the iconic American soda fountain drink, and “A Thousand Wishes,” a beautifully animated short about a lovers’ romance aboard a refugee ship bound for Brazil. Indeed, Elke Sommer, one of the voices in the film was on hand in the theater to talk of her experiences as a German actress in the American film industry.
One never knows what corner of the world & Jewish life will be explored at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, one of our community’s best loved events.