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Mendel

In a story paralleling director Alexander Rosler's own, "Mendel" describes how a family of Jewish immigrants leaves postwar Germany to settle in small-town Norway. Its insistence on the scars left by the Holocaust, not only on survivors but on their apparently unscathed offspring, makes pic grippingly real. Rosler's delicate treatment of this subject, full of strong emotions, should open the doors to Euro niche markets for quality product. This coming-of-age story focuses on the cultural maladjustment of Mendel Trotzig (Thomas Jungling Sorensen), a bright little boy who can't understand why Mom and Dad want to leave Germany. Survivors of a concentration camp, they are now displaced persons who have been relocated to a remote Norwegian town. First part of film shows them in the poverty of a shared slum apartment, getting acquainted with the suspicious local population.

With:
Mendel Trotzig ..... Thomas Jungling Sorensen Bela ..... Teresa Harder Aron ..... Hans Kremer David ..... Martin Meingast Mr. Freund ..... Wolfgang Pintzka

Adding to his anxiety is the fact that Mendel feels shut out of family secrets, hidden in photos he’s forbidden to see. When he finally learns what the pictures contain — horrifying shots of the camps, and the identity of his brother’s real father — he starts sharing the older folks’ nightmares. This brings him into conflict with the local culture, which he had longed to be part of. His pride wounded by his belief that the Jews passively allowed themselves to be slaughtered, he becomes obsessed with bravery and turns into a bully.

Rosler, a veteran documaker who has made many films for children, brings home complex, adult issues in simple ways. Along with Norway’s peace and safety come Jesus and Santa Claus, which neither Mendel’s atheist father (Hans Kremer) nor the hyper-orthodox neighbor (Wolfgang Pintzka) can stomach. It is easy to sympathize with the sensitive Mendel as he strives, while growing up in a foreign land, to understand who he is and what his religious background means.

Hardly a cute tyke, Sorensen plays Mendel with the aggressive stubbornness of a born rebel. German stage thesp Kremer makes a strong-minded father, fond of telling endearing, if not terribly funny, jokes. Teresa Harder is a positive force as Mendel’s beautiful, tough mother, who sings her kids to sleep as they make the transition from “subhumans to refugees.” Tech credits are serviceable.

Mendel

NORWEGIAN-DANISH-GERMAN

Production: A Northern Lights (Norway)/Zentropa Entertainments (Denmark)/Lichtblick Filmproduktion (Germany) production, in association with Norsk Film, NRK. (International sales: Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm.) Produced by Axel Helgeland. Co-producers, Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Helga Baehr. Directed, written by Alexander Rosler.

Crew: Camera (color), Helge Semb; editor, Einar Egeland; music, Geir Bohren, Bent Aserud; production design, Jack van Domburg; sound (Dolby SR Digital), Fredrik Berg. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 19, 1997. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: Mendel Trotzig ..... Thomas Jungling Sorensen Bela ..... Teresa Harder Aron ..... Hans Kremer David ..... Martin Meingast Mr. Freund ..... Wolfgang Pintzka

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