[SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS opens in Cleveland on Friday October 21 st exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
“Sholem Aleichem” is Yiddish for “Peace be upon you.” It was also the pen name of Russian Jew Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, a writer who in the late 1800's sought to legitimize Yiddish as a literary language through his stories, books and plays. He is perhaps best known today for providing the source material for the musical FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, based on a series of short stories Rabinovich wrote about Tevye the Milkman.
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS is a documentary that details the author's life and influence. The details of Rabinovich's life are related through interviews with scholars and surviving family members and illustrated with a wealth of photographs both of the author and his kin, and of Jewish life from the period in general. For a film about a writer who imbued his stories with such life and humor, this documentary is disappointingly dry. All talking heads and flat narration, it delivers the facts but never really draws the viewer in.
SHOLEM ALEICHEM is not a bad film for one who already has an interest in its subject; certainly just about everything you'd want to know about the writer and the times and conditions that shaped him is here, albeit presented in a bland fashion. It just doesn't work very well cinematically, and winds up feeling like the kind of movie you'd watch in a classroom, or the kind of thing you might see on The History Channel. If you came across it while channel surfing, maybe you'd pause for awhile to pick up a few nuggets of information, but it wouldn't be long before the urge to move on kicked in. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.