Photo Credit:
A still from Tzvi Fishman’s new movie, “Stories of Rebbe Nachman”

{This movie review is by Guest Columnist, Baruch Gordon}

One of my most favorite movies of all time is the film, “Law and Disorder,” which was made some forty years ago, starring Carroll O’Conner (of “Archie Bunker fame) and Ernest Borgnine. The movie told the funny and poignant story of a group of Brooklynites who form a volunteer police unit to deal with the growing crime in their middle-class neighborhood. Only many years later, after I made aliyah, did I discover that the writer of the movie was none other than Tzvi Fishman, author of the wonderful novel, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” and the popular book, “Kuzari for Young Readers.” Fed up with the fast life in Hollywood, where he sold four feature-film screenplays while on his way to a successful career, Fishman underwent a miracle-filled journey of t’shuva, returning to his Jewish roots. Moving to New York City, he taught screenwriting for several years at New York University’s prestigious School of the Arts Film School, gradually weaning himself away from the movie profession until he realized that his mission in life was to live a life of Torah in the Holy Land, using his skills to spread the light of Torat Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People through his easy-to-read blogs and books.


Last week I had the pleasure of watching Tzvi’s new movie, “Stories of Rebbe Nachman,” at a screening in Bet El. It is no secret that many of the most advanced computer technologies have been invented in Israel. Now another innovation can be added to the list – a “Torah Movie.” The fact that Rabbi Shlomo Aviner was at the screening and spoke before the film is an innovation in itself. I can’t think of any feature-like movie in the past which Rabbi Aviner has approved, let alone praised so highly.

Fishman’s film is based on several famous stories of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. While Rabbi Aviner is certainly not a Hasid of Rebbe Nachman, he said that his fable-like stories are the inheritance of all the Jewish people, and that they have the power to inspire people to come closer to Hashem. “This is the movie that we have been waiting for,” Rabbi Aviner declared. “From beginning to end, it is filled with holy content, holy words, holy images, while being interesting, and a pleasure to view.” In his lecture, he spoke about some of the themes in the movie, like being happy with one’s lot, trust in Hashem, and the importance of joy in one’s daily service of G-d. But before I comment on a few of the themes in more depth, allow me a few observations about the cinematic side of the movie.

I don’t see as many films as I used to, but my brother in America has won several awards for films he has made, so I know a little something about the media. Fishman’s film isn’t a blockbuster like “Harry Potter” or the other special-effect extravaganzas of today. The movie was made on a very modest budget, $160,000 compared to the $160,000,000 budget of “Harry Potter” and the $1,600,000 budget of standard Israeli films which are subsidized by government film grants (almost always awarded to filmmakers with anti-religious or pro-Arab agendas). But Fishman, and the talented crew he assembled, succeeded in giving the film a beautiful look, with a deep cinematic texture, coupled with magnificent scenery, magical locations, and a wardrobe as convincing as any Hollywood film. The film transports the viewer to a fairy-tale time and place, filled with wonderful cast of kings and princes, magicians and peasants, and you never think for a moment that you are watching a film which was shot almost entirely in Israel. The film’s director of photographer, Jorge Gurvich, is one of Israel’s most respected cameraman, with a long line of films and awards to his credit. Francoise Coriat, in charge of sets and wardrobe, comes from a rich background of theater and her gifted work makes the film look like a high-budget production. The editing by Andrea and Guiseppe Platania keeps the action flowing. Especially remarkable are the special effects they achieved with such a low budget. I thought that all the locations were real, but Fishman confides that many were filmed in a studio using computer graphics. The enchanted forest in the story, “The Worldly Son and the Simpleton,” is as scary as anything in “Harry Potter.” I was wondering where Fishman found a spooky forest like that in Israel, and only learned later that it was all done in a ten-meter square studio by using a technique called “green screen” which is the way they do things these days in Hollywood. In addition, the film (in English with Hebrew subtitles) is filled with familiar Rebbe Nachman tunes by Yisrael Dagan and upbeat songs by the popular Udi Davidi.


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