A bungalow colony where a group of Holocaust survivors congregate every summer, as they have for more than a quarter-century, provides the subject of “Four Seasons Lodge,” New York Times journalist Andrew Jacobs’ surprisingly upbeat docu debut. With the legendary Albert Maysles heading the camera crew, the pic serenely unfolds at the slow and steady pace of its indomitable subjects, ultimately rewarding viewers’ patience as individual personalities and stories emerge amid the threatened sale of the Catskills colony. Pic begins a limited run Wednesday, but its strong appeal to Jewish and/or elderly auds could widen its exposure when televised.
These survivors go into few detail about the camps, though glimpses of tattooed forearms and offhand comments (about Josef Mengele’s experiments or the scarcity of younger survivors because small children were automatically sent to the gas chambers) resonate powerfully. They do speak often of the experience of being “liberated” as youngsters, with their entire families missing or dead and with nowhere to go. In this context, the importance of their seasonal community looms large, the friendships forged there sometimes stronger than their hasty marriages. Their communal past vibrates more intensely than moments shared with children and grandchildren.
But the Holocaust supplies the subtext rather than the text of the docu, which concerns the fragile present, as octogenarians dance to “Cabaret” showtunes or applaud blue jokes by entertainers almost as old as they are. Lodgers can no longer dance until the wee hours or consume countless quarts of booze; infirmity and illness hover, the cries of a woman with Alzheimer’s echoing more distant torments. But, having endured so much, most of them accept the inevitable with grace, determined to wring every possible drop of enjoyment out of their annual get-together.
Another end haunts the film: the impending dissolution of the jointly owned colony. Despite their constant kvetching, even the two founders in charge of maintenance — though tired of the constant demands on their aging bodies (dramatized via a jaunty montage of petulant complaints) — realize their dependence on the regular summer pilgrimage.
Maysles’ camera lingers on the seasonal changes as snow blankets the locked-up colony, itself a remnant of the once-flourishing Borscht Belt whose heyday was so strikingly evoked in Tony Goldwyn’s underrated “Walk on the Moon.” There’s even a traveling merchant who, though hardly resembling Viggo Mortensen, nevertheless charms the ladies with his rousing rendition of “Kinder-Yorn.”