Traveling into the past and an uncertain future, “The Last Sephardic Jew” covers new territory at every turn. Docu focuses on Eliezer Papo, a young lawyer, writer and “itinerant rabbi” from Sarajevo who now teaches Ladino — the dying language of Spanish Jewry — in Jerusalem. Skillfully assembled pic follows him on a colorful journey to places Sephardim went after expulsion from Spain, resulting in a much greater understanding of an underserved subject. Pic’s a must for Jewish fests, which often dwell on Ashkenazim, and for film events inclined toward history and culture. Multi-version narration would help this go further, tubewise.
When Columbus was busy sailing the ocean blue, the Spanish were busy sending Jews and Muslims on their way, by force. Miguel Angel Nieto’s peripatetic reconstruction of that Diaspora paints a memorable portrait a people who still think of Spain as “a woman we loved who cheated on us.”
Places they subsequently called home, if only temporarily, include the Venezuelan isle of Curacao, where a few hundred elderly Jews still reside, and Papo’s hometown, where the Sephardim, as on old-timer puts it, long provided the “salt” between the flour and yeast of Christian and Muslim cultures.
Most fascinating places shown are Istanbul, where music and theater groups keep Ladino culture alive, and the Greek region of Thesaloniki, where Jewish culture was dominant for hundreds of years, until Nazis wiped out most of the 80,000 Sephardim in just a few months.
Pic wraps back to Spain, to cities like Toledo — where Jews and their books were burned during the Inquisition — which now get a big chunk of their tourist trade by hyping relics of their Jewish history. There’s plenty more irony here, in elegiacal treatment that also takes time for playful imagery and many musical interludes. Rich Corinthian-leather narration from Joan Carlos Gustems is another plus.