‘A protagonist who is proud to be a Jew’

‘A protagonist who is proud to be a Jew’

In 1999, documentary filmmaker Paul Morrison set out to write and direct his first narrative film. Set in 1911 Wales, it was a powerful story about the love that developed between an Orthodox Jewish man and a chapel-going Christian woman. Solomon would leave his tsitsit hidden in a rock just beyond his home and venture out into the surrounding Welsh mining communities to sell his wares. Outside his Jewish community, he is attracted by what he saw and he is drawn to Gaenor, her world, and her family. The Academy award-nominated "Solomon and Gaenor" is the story of two young people who are largely drawn to each other because they both value their traditions. The story, by its very nature, is tragic, as both of the children go outside the very parameters they inherently value.

I found it interesting that Morrison’s chooses a similar theme for his second film, "Wondrous Oblivion," which opens on Nov. 3 in the metropolitan area.

Delroy Lindo (Dennis) coaches Sam Smith (David) in "Wondrous Oblivion," a ‘006 Palm Pictures release.

This time the story is set in 1960s England around a Jewish high school youth who is a child of European-born parents. Eleven-year-old David Wiseman has a penchant for cricket but hasn’t the faintest notion of how to play; he is "wondrously oblivious" to this fact. His family lives in the midst of a lower-middle-class neighborhood where, when the Jewish next-door neighbor moves away, they find themselves to be the only Jews. The neighbors are generally accepting of the Jewish family, and the Wiseman parents go to great effort to give their child a solid British private school education. We learn that David has no grandparents, as they were "killed" in Europe, though David knows little more.

Then the Samuels move next door. They are a lively Jamaican family and clearly do things differently from their Jewish neighbors. The rose bushes in the back yard disappear, the music is unique, and the noise level is demonstrably higher. The neighbors’ reception of the Jamaicans is far from enthusiastic, and tensions flare. In the midst of this, David meets Judy (Leonie Elliott), the young Samuels girl, and they become fast friends, as her dad takes on the task of coaching David in cricket.

As you can imagine, I was readying myself to see but another remake of "The Karate Kid," as I contemplated David leading his cricket team to the Cup Final — you know, just another movie about the kid who overcomes that big obstacle and triumphs. However, this is not the tack that writer/director Morrison takes. We get to know David and follow his life as a young Jew with deep Jewish values. Though he may be "oblivious," at least initially, about his lack of talent as a cricket player, he is a keen observer of life and quite comfortable, though not terribly knowledgeable, as a Jew.

In "Solomon and Gaenor," Morrison pursued a story of a Jew wanting to break away and taste the outside world, only to find that route to be a very difficult one. In "Wondrous Oblivion," he brings us into the ’60s, where we can appreciate how a young Jew, closely identified, is still able to celebrate and enjoy difference. Interestingly, Sam Smith, the actor who plays David, has a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father and was not given a Jewish education. Approaching the age of bar mitzvah while studying for the role of David, he became more interested in learning about his religion and, while studying Hebrew and learning a few texts for the part, decided to read quite a bit about Judaism. Delroy Lindo, who plays Judy’s father and David’s unofficial cricket coach, is larger than life. David’s mother, played by Emily Woof, is physically striking and exudes warmth.

Sam Smith is David in "Wondrous Oblivion."

"Wondrous Oblivion" is a beautiful film study of how multiculturalism and the strength of diversity can add so much to our society without taking away from one’s own identity. Interestingly, it is the Wiseman family’s own sense of what it means to be a Jew that has a powerful impact on their neighborhood.

It is such a pleasure to watch a film today about a protagonist who is proud to be a Jew. Paul Morrison flirted with the need to leave the Jewish world and seek something different in his first film. I’m thrilled that here, in his second narrative film, he is showing us that one can still do that without giving up one’s Jewishness and particularity.

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