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JPost.com » Arts & Culture » Entertainment » Article

'Zorro' film unmasks bar mitzva's meaning

In the new Austrian film Zorro's Bar Mitzvah, Jewish party documenter Andre describes the addictive nature of his video extravaganzas. "There are people in Israel with relatives who collect my films, not just of their family, any family," he explains from his audio-visual studio, which looks sufficiently equipped for a Disney production.

"I know two or three women - it tends to be women - they play these films all day at home when they're ironing, just have them playing in the background," says Andre, a middle-aged Viennese Jew.

He philosophizes that perhaps it is his destiny to endlessly attend bar and bat mitzva parties because he never got to have one.

Hard to imagine collecting bar mitzva videos?

After seeing Zorro, you might be tempted to play it again and again like Andre's Israeli fans, just to catch the nuance of what the four families portrayed in the film have to say about Jewishness, adulthood, identity, gender, schmaltz and, yes, Zorro the masked hero.

This masterful cinematic documentary of three recent Viennese bar mitzvas and one bat mitzva is the work of Austrian Jewish filmmaker Ruth Beckermann, whose documentaries about World War II and Jewish memory have earned her critical acclaim.

Zorro opened at an Austrian film festival at Lincoln Center in New York in early December and at art film houses in Vienna. The 90-minute film, in German with English subtitles, is making the festival rounds.

The film's title is inspired by the video clip Andre is shooting for a Georgian-Viennese family. The clip will be the centerpiece of their extravagant bar mitzva party. Sharon, the handsome bar mitzva who looks more like a 19-year-old than a 12-year-old, is to play Zorro, and Andre sets up a shoot replete with horses, stunt men, makeup artists, costumes and sword fighting in front at a Baroque Austrian estate.

Never far from the scene is Sharon's sexy mother, whose perfect French manicured nails, showy outfits and willingness to spend vast sums on a party that resembles the Academy Awards seem to fascinate Beckermann.

The lavishness, however, is undercut by the sincerity of mother and son. Sharon's mother is only doing what her extended family expects - they want a party appropriate for the son that her own father circumcised.

Far from being spoiled, Sharon is dutiful, respectful and performs his Torah portion with finesse.

Then, in the film's most hilarious moment, after a downcast Sharon tells Andre he only wanted to play the man in black because of a scene from The Legend of Zorro that "my mother won't allow" - Antonio Banderas as Zorro startles and then embraces a half-naked Catherine Zeta-Jones - the audience is treated to that scene.

When Sharon finally speaks on camera about the meaning of his bar mitzva, it's clear that dancers imported from Israel and a stage encircled by torches are not an inappropriate tribute for what he feels is the most important day of his life.

The greatest contrast to the cleavage and booty shaking at the Georgian party is the bar mitzva of Moishe, whose family is from a Hassidic branch of Judaism.

Watching Moishe pray and recite Torah at such a high level surely makes this the most distilled passage into Jewish adulthood in Zorro.

Among the film's most compelling scenes is the presentation of a prayer book to Moishe by young boys in traditional black-and-white Hassidic dress with side curls.

Beckermann makes a point of showing how female friends and relatives, including Moishe's mother, can only view the proceedings by peering through gaps in a row of bushes set up as a gender barrier in the party room.

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It's my party. Filmmaker Ruth Beckermann explores a variety of bar and bat mitva celebrations in her latest movie, including one for an admirer of Antonio Banderas' recent 'Zorro' movies.
Photo: JTA

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