Shem

Perhaps the most distinctive thing about Caroline Roboh's rambling follow-up to her 1983 debut CLEMENTINE TANGO is that it features one of the least likable protagonists ever: a handsome but impossibly arrogant and shallow young Londoner named Daniel. At the movies outset, Daniel chucks both his job as a graphic designer at an ad agency and, most cruelly,...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Perhaps the most distinctive thing about Caroline Roboh's rambling follow-up to her 1983 debut CLEMENTINE TANGO is that it features one of the least likable protagonists ever: a handsome but impossibly arrogant and shallow young Londoner named Daniel. At the movies outset, Daniel chucks both his job as a graphic designer at an ad agency and, most cruelly, his older girlfriend (Roboh), whose teenage son (Pavel Rimburg) Daniel has been bedding as well. Daniel's one shot at redemption comes when his beloved grandmother, Nana (Hadassha Hungar Diamant), a Jewish emigre from Vienna and the only person Daniel appears to love or respect, asks him to search for the grave of her father, an Austrian rabbi named Theodore Weiss. Rabbi Weiss' name doesn't appear on any of the lists of Jews sent to the Nazi concentration camps, and the last time Nana ever saw him alive was when he bundled her off to London on the eve of the Holocaust; she assumes he died in 1939, but has no idea where he was buried. Indifferent to his Hebraic heritage but devoted to his grandmother, Daniel promises to do his best and travels first to Paris, where he encounters a sexually voracious beauty (Cyrielle Clair) who latches on to him and insists on following him to Berlin when Paris turns out be a dead end. In the German capital, Daniel meets gay Zara (Geraldine de Bastion), one woman who isn't interested in sleeping with him, and a Jewish museum official who suggests he try looking for his grandfather in Prague. There, Daniel, who still won't give his real name (or "shem," in Hebrew) to anyone he meets, encounters a mysterious photographer, taps into Jewish tradition and comes to the rather sudden realization that he owes it to all the Holocaust victims to "be alive." Daniel's haphazard journey then takes him Budapest, where he nearly dies at the hands of a kinky killer, then to Belgrade and finally, to Bulgaria, where Daniel finally finds the answers he's looking for. There's also a strange, sinister plot afoot, and Daniel's constant, bisexual escapades end up making Roboh's film a bizarre hybrid between Euro erotic thriller and a parable of Jewish awakening. But while the tone might be way off, there are some striking images, and the depiction of contemporary but permanently scarred European capitals through the lens of the Holocaust 50 years after the fact is interesting. Keep an eye out for famed Hungarian director Isvan Szabo's strange cameo in a Budapest cemetery.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Perhaps the most distinctive thing about Caroline Roboh's rambling follow-up to her 1983 debut CLEMENTINE TANGO is that it features one of the least likable protagonists ever: a handsome but impossibly arrogant and shallow young Londoner named Daniel. At t… (more)

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