The Last Sephardic Jew

Traveling into the past and future, "The Last Sephardic Jew" covers new territory at every turn. Docu focuses on Eliezer Papo, a lawyer, writer and "itinerant rabbi" from Sarajevo who now teaches Ladino in Jerusalem. Pic follows him on a journey to places Sephardim went after expulsion from Spain. Pic's a must for Jewish fests and for film events inclined toward history and culture.

With:
With: Eliezer Papo, Moshe Shaul, Isaac Abgavnel, Yitzhak Navon. Narrator: Joan Carlos Gustems. (Ladino, Spanish, English, Greek and Serbo-Croatian dialogue.)

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.

The Last Sephardic Jew

Spain

Production: An Alea/TVSL production, in association with TVE SA, ARTE Gelia. Produced by Pablo Uson, Daniel Hernadez. Executive producer, Stephanie Von Lukowicz, Hans Robert Eisenhauer. Directed Miguel Angel Nieto. Written by Nieto, Carles Cappares.

Crew: Camera (color, Beta SP), Cappares; editor, Olga Marcos; music, Dina Rot, Transmission, Rio de Nostalgia; sound (Dolby), Jesus Martinez Torrero. Reviewed at Vancouver Jewish Film Festival, May 12, 2004. Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Eliezer Papo, Moshe Shaul, Isaac Abgavnel, Yitzhak Navon. Narrator: Joan Carlos Gustems. (Ladino, Spanish, English, Greek and Serbo-Croatian dialogue.)

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