A gently ironic, but essentially Hasidic, debate between two middle-aged Jews who are reunited after more than a decade forms the dramatic core of THE QUARREL, a modest film about man's relationship to his God.
A large part of the film's ironic mood stems from its setting in postwar Montreal. It's 1948, and a huge cross dominates the city's Mont Royal Park where, by pure chance, Chaim Kovler (R.H. Thomson) meets old childhood rival and now Rabbi Hersh Rasseyner (Saul Rubinek). They had been fellow
students at a religious school, until Chaim left to pursue a career as a writer and the war separated them further by sending Chaim to Siberia and Hersh to Auschwitz. Their wartime experiences and the fate of their old lives and friends in Bialystok, Poland, start them on their views of religion,
although Chaim still defers to his old training and hesitates to light up a cigarette during a day that is sacred to practicing Jews.
Since Chaim writes for the Yiddish press, there is no question of assimilation and the film seems to counterpoint this theme by its setting. As in prewar Poland, the two Jews are almost surrounded by an alien culture. French is heard as they wander by the people in the park. They are alone except
for an ingratiating female who accosts Chaim. He'd met and slept with her the night before; she's apparently a very young Auschwitz survivor and, as it turns out, one of Hersh's most passionate students.
In their debate Hersh makes the persuasive argument for a religiously based morality since reason alone could be seen as a support for the crimes committed by either Stalin's Communism or Hitler's Nazism. Chaim, however, counters that if he knew God, he'd put him on trial. Though they never
reconcile their differences on this issue, the two do come together on more personal questions. Chaim had left his wife and children behind when he left for Russia since he mistakenly thought only men were being seized for forced labor, while Hersh never got along with a severe father who tended
to favor his brightest student, Chaim. On this theme they can absolve each other of guilt and renew their ruptured friendship.
Despite its occasional charms (Chaim always nervously notes how Hersh brushes away the dirt on any surface they sit on) and its evocative representation of postwar Montreal, THE QUARREL is only for selected tastes. The whole film, called "a sort of Jewish MY DINNER WITH ANDRE" by one Canadian
critic, may be just too self-involved and philosophical. Besides the Jewish reaction to wartime genocide, screenwriter David Brandes and director Eli Cohen have taken on one of the grandest themes possible, God and man, and such topics do not make for easy entertainment.
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: A gently ironic, but essentially Hasidic, debate between two middle-aged Jews who are reunited after more than a decade forms the dramatic core of THE QUARREL, a modest film about man's relationship to his God. A large part of the film's ironic mood stems… (more)