(Polish, English and German dialogue)
“Bye Bye America” is a charmingly acted amalgam of chutzpah, moxie and tempered resignation. Far-fetched and fanciful odyssey of a zaftig Polish cleaning lady who returns to her native village after 30 years in America has offshore arthouse potential, particularly in Jewish and Polish enclaves.
Comic prologue, in which Genovefa (Zofia Merle), still speaking more Polish than English, buys a special purse for her triumphant return, sets the tone. Rotund Merle anchors the pic as a no-nonsense yet strangely girlish force to be reckoned with.
Genovefa is married to diminutive fellow Pole Moshe (Jakov Bodo), with whom she has spent the past three decades living in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach area. Moshe’s best friend is Issac (Otto Tausig), a German sad sack who sums up his track record in the business world with “If I were to go into the funeral biz, people would stop dying.”
The plan is for Issac to housesit while couple sojourns abroad, but, when the garment district sweatshop where Issac works is raided, he joins Genovefa and Moshe on their journey via Polish freighter. Ship conks out in German port and schleppy trio is forced to continue overland. They finally reachGdansk after countless individual and group setbacks.
The pic — directed by Jan Schutte, who also scripted with Thomas Strittmatter — sacrifices plausibility in later stages but remains touching and amusing throughout. Male thesps are delightful in their downtrodden acceptance, which women counter with hearty resolve.
Bank manager’s appreciation speech to immigrant custodial staff about “inner and outer clarity and cleanliness” is tops. Josh Mostel scores as a New Jersey resident attempting to bury his father on Polish soil.
Pic was lensed in New York, Germany and Poland, and production design perfectly evokes the tone of each locale. Mix of languages and destinations is carried off with aplomb. Spare, slightly melancholy music is ideal.