Divided into three cinematic stanzas and spanning a trio of disparate locales, this hauntingly beautiful documentary from Israeli filmmaker Michale Boganim moves from the storied Ukrainian city of Odessa to Brooklyn's "Little Odessa" neighborhood and then on to Ashdod, Israel. This, however, is no ordinary travelogue. Using the symbolic figure of a weary traveler carrying a battered valise as linking device, the film is instead a psychic map of the Jewish Diaspora. The voyage begins in Odessa. Perched on the edge of the Black and Sea and suffused with an eerie blue glow, the city seems suspended in time, existing only as a collective memory dreamt by the Jews who have already left. Those who have stayed behind exist in a desolate twilight world, tucked away in crumbling, cavernous apartments filled with memories, photos and the detritus of the past. The only inhabitants appear to be the elderly Jews who've grown too old to ever leave. Jews who emigrated to the United States in hopes of finding a new homeland, meanwhile, don't seem to have met with much success. Many of the first-generation Russians who helped turned Brooklyn's Brighton Beach into a "Little Odessa" remain far outside the mainstream of American culture and society. Some don't speak any English, others never even leave the confines of this self-imposed ghetto. Trading samovars and memories of home on the boardwalk or under the rumbling elevated train, the Odessan Jews of Brighton Beach are no more at home here in Brooklyn than those who emigrated to the desert of Israel. As an Odessa-born street sweeper explains, the Russian Jews of Ashdod, a sun-bleached port city just south of Tel Aviv, have formed their own confined community within the Yud district of the town. Those who hoped to find a home in a country where being Jewish is the norm now find themselves ghettoized as "Russians." One elderly grandmother sits alone in her apartment, surrounded by the photos of Odessa her late husband obsessively collected. In her daydreams, she's back in Odessa. Inspired by the Odessa stories of Isaac Babel, Boganim has beautifully evoked Odessa not as a real-life locale, but a state of mind — a lodestar of powerful nostalghia that continues to exert its force on those who felt compelled to search elsewhere for what Jews have always dreamt of: a homeland. Like the wandering Jews of the film, Jakob Ihre's camera rarely settles in one place. Gliding ghost-like through the streets of Odessa, Brooklyn and Ashdod, it perfectly captures a sense of rootlessness, displacement and exile.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: NR
- Review: Divided into three cinematic stanzas and spanning a trio of disparate locales, this hauntingly beautiful documentary from Israeli filmmaker Michale Boganim moves from the storied Ukrainian city of Odessa to Brooklyn's "Little Odessa" neighborhood and then… (more)