Arts & Events

Arts: Deception, Transgression and Regression By JUSTIN DeFREITAS

Friday March 03, 2006

A spate of German-themed films has made and continues to make its way to Berkeley theaters, from last year’s Downfall, about the final days of Adolph Hitler, to current and upcoming releases such as Fateless, about the Nazi occupation of Hungary, Summer Storm, the story of a young German boy’s sexual awakening, and Before the Fall, a coming-of-age film set in one of Hitler’s schools for the elite. (Before the Fall will be reviewed in this space next week.) 

But this week’s offering stands apart from the others, if only because of its subject matter. 

Directed by Dani Levy, Go For Zucker! is the first German-Jewish comedy since World War II and among the first German films of any genre to depict German Jews outside a Holocaust context.  

The film stars Henry Hübchen as Jaecki Zucker (formerly Zuckermann), a man who abandoned his Jewish identity decades ago but must now reconcile with his estranged Orthodox brother in order to acquire an inheritance.  

Go For Zucker!, a huge hit in Germany, has played to Berkeley audiences before, anchoring the East Bay edition of last July’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. It opens today (Friday) at Landmark’s Act 1 & 2.  

Growing up in East Germany, Jaecki Zucker renounced his Jewish faith in his brash, leftist youth. Now in his fifties, his life of high-stakes billiards has drawn a string of creditors while pushing his family further and further away from him. But they are drawn back together when Zucker’s mother’s death brings with it the lure of a great sum of money.  

The will stipulates that Zucker must reconcile with his Orthodox brother and observe the lengthy traditional mourning rituals if he wants to get his inheritance. Zucker’s family, including his wife, played by German star Hannelore Elsner, must therefore struggle to pass as observant when the in-laws come to visit for nine days. The family rabbi is charged with monitoring the process to see that all the family members meet their obligations. 

What follows is a comedy of deceptions, transgressions and regressions as two cultures clash amid old family enmities and grudges.  

The film is essentially a glorified sitcom, full of broad humor and silliness. It is an entirely pleasant experience, though not an entirely satisfying one, for the film’s subject matter suggests such a rich source of both humor and pathos. The confllicts and gags are amusing if predictable, while the resolutions are a bit too facile to be fully convincing.  

It is a groundbreaking film in its treatment of German-Jewish life, but otherwise it is simply too slight to be truly relevant. Levy doesn’t seem to have decided exactly what the film should be; it is not pointed enough to be successful satire, yet it is not funny enough to be successful as mere comedy. 



Images courtesy of First Run Features 

Jaecki Zucker (Henry Hübchen) plays pool on the sly when his Orthodox brother and family come to visit..