For everyone who had a Jewish grandmother, or wanted one, there’s “Oma & Bella” to help them remember. Freshman helmer Alexa Karolinski crafts a love letter to grandma Regina (“oma” means granny) and her best friend, Bella Katz, two Holocaust survivors in Berlin whose love of food and family taps directly into the target audience’s yiddishe mama memories. Though structurally flawed and maddeningly mum about crucial pieces of info, the docu is blessed with two tamper-proof dames and an immortal life at Jewish fests worldwide.
Polish Regina Karolinski and Lithuanian Katz survived the ghettoes and camps of WWII, winding up in Berlin, where they stayed and raised families. In 2007, when Karolinski had hip surgery, Katz moved in and never left. Now they spend their days shopping and cooking together, holding onto the past via its most evocative conduit: food. Why they went to Berlin, how they met and what’s become of Katz’s offspring are never revealed, but the helmer is more interested in capturing the Proustian qualities of memory, with the survivors’ mix of exuberance and tragedy. Camerawork is unpolished, but energy comes from the ladies, not the lensing.