Vet documaker Ruth Beckermann blends healthy irony with bemused respect in “Zorro’s Bar Mitzvah,” which follows four youngsters in Austria as they celebrate becoming full members of the Jewish community at age 13. Film smoothly challenges the unstated taboo of portraying well-off German-speaking Jews whose children are thriving and have no qualms about expressing their Jewish identities. Intimate, communicative lensing and keen editing suggest an all-media career for Jewish and non-Jewish auds alike.
Beckermann’s camera trails Andre, who makes souvenir videotapes of Jewish rituals. Viewers will come away with the impression either that faith and tradition are the beautiful cornerstones of a meaningful life or that these people are loons.
Religious and post-ceremony party preparations by the unrelated quartet of three boys and a girl are expertly woven together. There’s no need for voiceover or explanatory captions.
Tom’s father is not Jewish, but his mother hails from a family that emigrated from Iraq to Israel in 1951. His bar mitzvah will be an unostentatious gathering of four generations on Israeli soil. Moishy is the enthusiastic son of Orthodox parents confident that leather-bound prayer books will thrill him as much as a GameBoy.
Sophie is a typical teenage girl, sharing the excitement of choosing her bar mitzvah dress with her mom. Sharon, the strapping son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, is getting a bar mitzvah extravaganza whose budget seems to be on par with the average Broadway musical — complete with dancing girls, fireworks and a symbolic parting of the Red Sea.
There’s also a lavish short film starring Tom as Zorro in flowing cape on horseback, even though Zorro’s connection to the Jewish people is non-existent.
All four candidates and their families come across as relatively unselfconscious good sports.