a film that means well , but is too pushy in promoting its belabored point and too sentimental to be compelling as a drama .
it's jeroen krabb ? 's melodrama about a community of jews in antwerp in 1972 who can't forget their bitter past .
the heroine is an attractive , carefree , nonreligious 20-year-old , chaja ( fraser ) , who wants to forget her jewish roots by getting involved in student demonstrations , screwing a student rebel leader , and living with her gentile friends away from her nagging mother ( s ? gebrecht ) and her self-absorbed , eccentric father ( schell ) .
her parents are survivors of the holocaust concentration camps , and her home life is filled with angst .
her mother is in denial about the past always busying herself by cooking soup and baking cakes and complaining about everything , while her father is more openly loving but has recently been absorbed in searching for two suitcases filled with mementos , a family album , silverware , and his old violin .
he buried them in a garden during the war while fleeing the nazis , but can't locate them now due to all the changes in the city .
out of frustration after quitting her job as a dishwasher and facing eviction from her apartment , she reluctantly accepts a job as a nanny with an hasidic couple that an old man in her parents' apartment building , mr . apfelschnitt ( topol ) , tells her about .
the hasidics are ultra-orthodox : they don't go to the cinema or watch tv , adhere to strict dress codes , and strictly observe their religious laws .
chaja is at first put off by the way they expect her to follow their rules , but soon finds the wife , mrs . kalman ( rossellini ) , to be kind and she becomes attached to one of her 5 children , a 4-year-old named simcha ( monty ) who doesn't talk .
the stern mr . kalman ( krabb ? ) is not friendly to her and considers her to be a whore because of the way she dresses .
to hammer home the point of how anti-semitism hasn't gone away there's a barrage of overdone and uninvolving scenes with a sneering concierge ( bradley ) , who keeps making nasty remarks about jews and tries to make things inconvenient for them by preventing the jewish family from using the elevator .
the film is done in by its ham-fisted script as the story , adapted from carl friedman's book " the shovel and the loom , " goes from one false note to another until it gets lost in all the goo of its sentimentality .
it starts off telling chaja's story of how she's a lost jewess trying to find her identity , then to her nanny role as she loves a mute child stuck in an insulated environment , and then it makes it a story about the lingering effects of the bitter past that can't be forgotten .
the effort seemed heavy-handed , as the film kept delivering too many obvious messages that it ponderously kept delivering through the stock characters .
the supporting cast consists of all wooden characters who give their roles a cartoonish flavoring : chaja's parents are given no human shades , while the janitor villain was a particularly annoying role that was one-dimensional and falsely acted .
the only ones who fought through the script and showed some feelings were fraser , whose effervescent face was expressive of both the trying times she was going through and the joys she felt -- but most admirably showing how she could be so mistaken as to think that she could forget her roots ; while rossellini gave a warm performance of a woman suffering in silence , but is strong in accepting her faith .
topol's reassuring performance as the wise man who says all the right things to fraser , acts as the true voice of the filmmaker in explaining all the sufferings with common sense .
the film brazenly uses little simcha to get across its agenda of pointing out how the patriarchal world can be cruel when it can't love : it starts out by showing how under chaja's loving care he's taken to the duck pond and soon starts jabbering away , beginning by saying 'quack , quack' and then going on to ask the four questions during a passover seder .
but by showing how the boy is so terrified of his strict father that he wets his pants in his presence , refuses to speak because of his stern dad , and eventually becomes the victim of a tragic accident , the film thereby exploits the boy's sufferings and his story just becomes tiresome and not sincerely done .
i felt i didn't just see a movie , but i attended a lecture for the whole 100 minutes of this serious but unappetizing story .
it was the kind of movie that you hoped would somehow end soon , as it seemed to be in the habit of rehashing its same viewpoint unnecessarily--the message it keeps sending was already received .
in the last shot where father and daughter are hopelessly digging for the lost luggage , one has the impression that no one in the film learned anything about themselves or the past .
that seems strange , since i thought that was what this film was supposed to be about .
unless i was mistaken and the film's real aim was to make us cry over simcha .