Ostensibly about the annual pilgrimage made by 25,000 Hasidic Jewish men to a 19th-century leader's Ukrainian gravesite, "Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy" seems barely interested in the event, instead providing the 75-year-old helmer with a forum to crack jokes and tease semi-comprehending locals for 73 well-padded minutes.

There are many good reasons for making a documentary, but “Maybe I was looking for a job” isn’t among them — and that comment proves the most telling insight Paul Mazursky provides regarding his decision to make a first nonfiction feature. Ostensibly about the annual pilgrimage made by 25,000 Hasidic Jewish men to a 19th-century leader’s Ukrainian gravesite, “Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy” seems barely interested in the event, instead providing the 75-year-old helmer — who duly informs us he’s a funny guy — with a forum to crack jokes and tease semi-comprehending locals for 73 well-padded minutes.

Seldom off-screen, Mazursky admits he’s culturally Jewish, “not religious,” and that rituals such as the ones observed here “don’t mean anything to me.” He struggles at the end to suggest he’s actually changed or learned something by visiting Uman for Rosh Hashana — when pilgrims paying tribute to late Rabbi Nachman come to “throw away their sins of the last year.” Result is a movie bemusedly detached from the profound “Jewish joy” at hand. Indulgent viewers may find the filmmaker/star as entertaining as he does himself. Others will judge this a poorly crafted homemovie-cum-vanity project that leaves a fascinating subject unexplored.

Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy

Production

A Tecolote production. Produced by Paul Mazursky, Milton Kim. Co-producers, Jeff Kanew, Bill Megalos, Steve Cody. Directed by Paul Mazursky.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Bill Megalos; editor, Jeff Kanew; music, Walter Werzowa. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Documentaries of the World), Sept. 25, 2006. English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian dialogue. Running time: 73 MIN.

With

Paul Mazursky, David Miretsky, Shmuel Levy, Ezriel Tauber.
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