Friday, May 21, 2010

Movie Interview with Abe: Holy Rollers

Holy Rollers
Directed by Kevin Asch
Released May 21, 2010

From its title, you would expect this movie about Hasidic Jews smuggling in ecstasy from Europe to be a clever comedy. Instead, it’s an occasionally entertaining but otherwise serious drama chronicling one man’s self-exploration as he tries to break free of his own tight-knit community. While it is a film that relatively accurately represents Hasidic Jewry, its cast, writer, and director insist that this is a coming-of-age story that could be applied to any religion. It’s a story focused on faith, family, and culture, says director Kevin Asch, and these characters just happen to be Jewish.

Actors Justin Bartha and Jesse Eisenberg discuss the film

“Holy Rollers” stars actor Jesse Eisenberg (“Zombieland”) delivering pretty much the same neurotic performance he always gives as Sam Gold, the Hasid lured into the world of worldly possessions and drug smuggling by an already wayward neighbor played by Justin Bartha (“The Hangover”). These usually comedic performers don black suits, beards, and payis curls to do their best to disappear into their characters. Eisenberg and Bartha describe their upbringing as Reform Jews, celebrating more the ancestry and the traditions than the religion. Eisenberg explains that Hasidic Jews in mainstream movies are usually represented humorously, and it’s nice to see a film that takes them seriously. Eisenberg says that during his research for the film he was taken in by Chabad, a group that loves working with secular Jews. Looking into the religious community, the actors were surprised by how heterogeneous its members were, since most of the people they spoke to had their own feelings about their faith.

Actor Danny Abeckaser discusses the film

Actor Danny Abeckaser has a slightly different background and viewpoint from his fellow performers. Abeckaser, who plays Israeli drug dealer Jackie Solomon in the film, comes from a fairly religious Sephardic family that keeps the Sabbath. He wanted to tell a beautiful Jewish story that shows how everybody makes mistakes and gets forgiven. He notes how his character, one of the film’s arguable villains, still calls his mother to wish her a Shabbat Shalom before the Sabbath begins. As the person who started the project, Abeckaser says that they researched fifty different stories and declined to interview any of the real-life people on which the movie is based because this had to be a story told through the eyes of one kid rather than a drug movie.

Director Kevein Asch and writer Antonio Mancia discuss the film

Asch explains that, as a non-religious Jew, he has a connection to Hasidic Jews, but it’s a relatively foreign one. Writer Antonio Mancia, who is himself a member of the Mormon religion, describes how he worked to find common universal traits to all families and faiths. Mancia wanted to ensure that the film wasn’t judging anyone and to be specific about the practices rather than watering them down. He notes that most people involved in the film had positive religious experiences growing up, which made this even more of an intriguing project. In the research for the film, both Asch and Mancia point out that some Hasids were eager to talk to them, keener on clearing up something than having misrepresentations. Asch emphasizes his desire to tell a story “so fascinating in its concept and that it happened,” enough to “create something cinematic and not be forced to tell someone’s story.” Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age journey, in Asch’s words, and charting Sam’s route from strict, observant Hasid Jew to drug smuggler is quite an experience in itself. Abeckaser is unconcerned with the film being a drama rather than a comedy, and says that anything that will get people to the theater is a positive thing. So don’t head into this film expecting to laugh too much – instead, anticipate an in-depth character study and a surprisingly well-rounded snapshot of one orthodox religious community.

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