Home / News / LocalRSS Feed
‘Left Luggage’ is a well-told journey of the spirit
May 18th, 2001
The film “Left Luggage,” written by Edwin de Vries and directed by Jeroen Krabbé, is a touching story about two Jewish families — one Hasidic, the other secular — living in 1970s Antwerp. Both families cope in their own ways with echoes of the not-too-distant Holocaust.
A connection between the two families and their two different worlds is made when Chaja (Laura Fraser), a 20-year-old university student and only child of survivors, tries to cobble together rent money by working as a nanny for the nearby Kalman family of Hasidic Jews.
In her care are two boys, a newborn daughter and Simcha Kalman (Adam Monty), a cute five-year-old who has yet to utter a word.
Krabbé, who plays the role of Holocaust survivor and ultra-sternodox Hasidic patriarch Kalman, is incapable of expressing warmth. His wife is played by a very plain-looking and frazzled Isabella Rosselini.
The movie captures the awkward feeling non-Hasidic people sometimes experience when they encounter the Hasidic world; a world where common human interactions (such as shaking the hand of an unrelated member of the opposite sex) are viewed as infractions of Jewish law.
The tension between secular, liberated Chaja and the Kalmans is so palpable that one wonders what seemingly innocent faux pas she will be chastised for next.
Rather than either falling in love with the Hasidic way of life or fleeing the oppressive atmosphere of her new job, as one might expect, Chaja toughs it out. In doing so, she becomes attached to little Simcha and injects some badly needed love, warmth and adventure into the family.
Chaja’s parents suffer from their own Holocaust scars as well, particularly her father, played by Maximilian Schell, who spends his time searching for two suitcases he buried during WWII.
Despite their different backgrounds, Chaja and the Kalmans learn to interact and accept each other in an almost contemporary way. Chaja respectfully changes her mini-skirt for an over-the-knee dress to attend the Kalmans’ seder.
However, after teaching the previously silent Simcha to recite the four questions, she is outraged at his father’s lack of pride in his son’s accomplishments and confronts him — likely the first time this man has been confronted by a female.
While they argue in his private study, she begins to understand how some of his experiences have affected his life. Despite her feminist perspective, she is able to force him to confront his memories.
At the same time, Chaja’s experiences with the Kalmans offer her understanding of her own family as well. Although she grew up thinking her father’s search for his buried suitcases — his lost life and heritage — was ridiculous and unnecessary, the Kalmans ignite her need to seek out her identity and to comprehend her father’s quest.
On many levels, the movie is well done, featuring fine acting; developed, complex characters; good cinematography; and a solid story line. That the movie was directed and written by European non-Jews is all the more heartening.
But on another level, “Left Luggage” seems yet another European film that depicts Jews as either reclusive Hasidim or scarred Holocaust victims.
There are over five million tough, brave Jewish Israelis, and a similar number of Jewish Americans, most of whom are neither Hasidic nor frightened. Why does it seem that only Jewish victimhood and weakness elicit European interest and sympathy?
“Left Luggage,” released by Castle Hill Productions, is currently showing at Northpoint theaters through the end of the month.