Set in eastern Poland, this black-and white feature chronicles the odyssey of two young boys, one Christian and the other Jewish, as they face ethnic hatreds and fears during the Depression. A mostly amateur cast sleepily delivers dialogue in Yiddish, Russian, and Polish, getting in the
way of the film's best element, the dilapidated, grim little village that serves as backdrop.
Ivan (Sacha Iakovlev), apprenticed to a Jewish family, befriends young Abraham (Roma Alexandrovitch), who, despite traditional side-curls and yarmulke, is unhappy with the demands of his religious upbringing and would rather play and ride horses. Abraham's sister, Rachel (Maria Lipkina), is in
love with Aaron (Vladimir Machkov), a Communist recently escaped from prison and now in hiding. Like her brother, however, she has to deal with their sternly traditional grandfather, Nachman (Rolan Bykov). Nachman is the manager for the local landowner, the Prince (Oleg Iankovski), who goes
bankrupt from his gambling debts. The ensuing economic disaster fuels the suspicions of the local peasantry, whose religious anti-Semitism needs little prompting.
In a plan to force Aaron's hand, Rachel pretends he's seduced her, and the lovers are forced to run away to France to escape Nachman's wrath. Meanwhile, Abraham decides to flee with Ivan--with his side-curls shorn, Abraham can now pass for a Gypsy as they wander the dirt-roads. They meet a
fairly discouraging assortment of people, including whip-toting horsemen and some peasants looking to find scapegoats, Gypsy or Jewish. The only endearing character is an eccentric horse-breeder, Stepan (Daniel Obrychski), who is amused by the young Abraham's natural skill with horses. Aaron and
Rachel meet the two boys on the road and send them back to the village. Returning, they find the village empty; Abraham's house is now a burnt ruin. The lads embark on an uncertain journey arm in arm.
Director-writer Yolande Zauberman, born in Paris more than a decade after the war, is the child of Polish Jewish survivors, but her film fails to provide much historical context or detail. Though the film is set in Poland, the only native Polish speaker is Stepan, and we never see or hear of any
kind of government official, not even a local constable. Aaron's communism, too, seems a bit murky--he has no thought of heading for Russia, just across the border, or contacting comrades in the nearest town. Zuberman's idealized notions of brotherhood seem rather puerile, especially in light of
ongoing ethnic and racial brutality in contemporary central Europe. Despite good intentions, interesting locales, and a feast of languages and dialects, IVAN AND ABRAHAM is marred by a mediocre script and too few professional performances. (Adult situations, nudity, sexual situations,profanity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: Set in eastern Poland, this black-and white feature chronicles the odyssey of two young boys, one Christian and the other Jewish, as they face ethnic hatreds and fears during the Depression. A mostly amateur cast sleepily delivers dialogue in Yiddish, Russ… (more)