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The Last Klezmer Leopold Kozlowski: His Life and Music

It's hard to call Leopold Kozlowski "the last klezmer," and there's only a minimal amount of the Polish composer's music in this movie. But the film is full of spunk and warmth, and with America and Europe going through a modest revival of klezmer music, this homemade docu should get some play at fests and on TV.

It’s hard to call Leopold Kozlowski “the last klezmer,” and there’s only a minimal amount of the Polish composer’s music in this movie. But the film is full of spunk and warmth, and with America and Europe going through a modest revival of klezmer music, this homemade docu should get some play at fests and on TV.

Kozlowski has a lot to say about Klezmer music (the folk tunes often heard at Jewish weddings) and Jewish culture in Poland, where he’s lived most of his composing career. He also has many a tale to tell about life during the Nazi occupation, in the resistance and in concentration camps. His lively charm wins over the viewer from the beginning, and some of the impromptu scenes director Yale Strom captures are touching.

Perhaps the best of these is when Kozlowski and a friend recall life in the concentration camp. Kozlowski offers a story he’s never told before, in which the Nazis made him play “Lili Marleen” on the violin while naked on the dinner table with a burning candle beneath him on which they lit their cigarettes. His friend’s comment, completely free of irony: “Must’ve looked funny.”

Film seems incomplete and uneven. There isn’t enough music to get a handle on what kind of a composer Kozlowski is — or, for non-insiders, what klezmer is — or to understand all the historic circumstances. Tech credits are poor. Color and lensing, as well as Strom’s high-school narrator’s voice, give the impression of a Super-8 home movie, which will be charming to some but annoying to others.

The Last Klezmer Leopold Kozlowski: His Life and Music

Production: A Maelstrom Films production. (International sales: Maelstrom, N.Y.) Produced by Bernard Berkin. Directed, written by Yale Strom.

Crew: Camera (color, 16 mm), Oren Rudavsky; editor, David Notowitz; music, Leopold Kozlowski, Strom; production design, Strom. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum section), Feb. 14, 1994. Running time: 84 MIN.

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