A young Jewish girl, Chaya, takes a job as nanny to an orthodox
Hasidic family in '70s Antwerp. She immediately connects with
their four year old, apparently mute, child Simcha (Adam Monty)
and through the love and affection that she shows the boy
discovers that the boy can speak. However, things around her
are not so happy. Melancholy pervades nearly everyone she
meets as the devastation of the Holocaust continues to reverberate
in those that survived. Simcha's father, Mr Kalman, is afraid
to love his son as he bears a striking resemblance to Kalman's
brother, who he was forced to watch being hung by the Nazi's.
Chaya's own father obsessively digs around the streets of
Antwerp trying to find the suitcases that he had buried during
the war. It seems that everyone has some left luggage in their
lives which they are searching for, so how long can it be
before Chaya has some left luggage of her own...?
Luggage (1998) was directed by Jeroen Krabbe, who is most
probably better known as an actor, having played in films
such as Oceans' Twelve and The Fugitive. Krabbe
also stars in Left Luggage as Chaya's Hasidic employer,
Mr Kalman. It is his debut film as a director.
film has an excellent cast. Along with Laura Fraser, who plays
the lead role, the film also boasts the talents of Isabella
Rossellini, Maximillian Schell and Chaim Topol. Though Isabella
as an ultra-orthodox Jew was a casting oddity, she plays her
part to perfection - of course it just might be me, as I'd
only just finished watching Death Becomes Her, where
she is scary, funny and practically nude. Schell, Krabbe and
Topol convey the complexities of their characters well. Each
in their own way, they are men whose pasts where so devastating
that rather than just informing their present it dominates
it, almost to the exclusion of anything else, including love.
Topol plays the lightest character, Mr Apfelschnitt, as he
takes the role of mentor to Chaya, a position that her father
fails to fulfil due to his own obsession. Mr Kalman and Chaya's
father's worlds are almost as introspective as Simcha's, though
each achieves a certain level of redemption at the end of
giving away a plot twist that comes out of nowhere, the ending
of the film is genuinely touching; it brought a lump to my
throat. The film, of course, could be accused of over sentimentality,
but then that is no bad thing. The sentimentality in the film
is never so sugar coated that it sticks in your throat. The
various Jewish characters bear the burdens of the past and
the horrors of the Holocaust, that could do little less than
scar them for life. The film also contains much understated
conflict between the very orthodox family, which Chaya goes
to work for, and her own liberalism. Initially, the film gives
the impression that her introduction into the family will
help heal their wounds and bring them to a more liberal stance.
But, as the film progresses, it is Chaya who slowly begins
to change. She learns to embrace her religion and all the
horrors of the past which that entails. In doing so she comes
to a deeper understanding of her father and mother.
film is not above questioning whether the level of paranoia
demonstrated by her orthodox employers is not justified. They
are persecuted by the janitor, who takes every opportunity
to bestow indignities. The benches of the park, where she
takes Simcha to play, are daubed with Nazi slogans and most
telling of all is Chaya's friend who finds it difficult to
understand why she would want to work with such a creepy family
and expresses surprise that Chaya is, herself, Jewish just
because she doesn't look like one - whatever that means.
The print is a bit washed out, giving a sort of made for television
feel. Sound is stereo but this still holds up very well, with
every sound coming over crystal clear. Surprisingly enough
the disc does come with some extras, though sadly no directors
commentary. What you do get is the films trailer, cast biographies
for six of the lead actors and a photo gallery, which given
that this isn't a Hollywood blockbuster isn't too bad.
the film takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster.
There is joy at Chaya's continual defiance of the janitors
treatment, joy when she elicits Simcha's first word and sadness
on so many other levels. You may need to get a box of tissues
to watch the film but the price will be one worth paying.
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