Friday, March 15, 2013

Movie with Abe: Hava Nagila: The Movie

Hava Nagila: The Movie
Directed by Roberta Grossman
Released March 15, 2013

Anyone who has ever been to a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah is almost certainly familiar with the song “Hava Nagila.” Whether that makes the origins of the popular melody and its words worthy of exploration is debatable, but that is the purpose of this buoyant new documentary. It turns out that a song that serves as a familiar Jewish anthem has a less than certain history and is hardly as well-regarded as people might expect. This journey into a well-known song is light and occasionally entertaining, though it didn’t take itself as seriously as might be productive.

While few would associate “Hava Nagila” with highbrow Jewish music, “Hava Nagila: The Movie” goes to great lengths to make a joke out of the song and out of its search for answers about how the song was created and came into popular culture. Defining its subjects as “Someone else” and “Has a PhD” lessens the impact of what they’re saying, and there’s no reason that this needs to be such a comical subject. The attitude undertaken by filmmaker Roberta Grossman and verbally expressed by narrator Rusty Schwimmer delegitimize the energetic quest on which they’re on, turning it into nothing more than a running joke.

During the third act of its brief 75-minute runtime, “Hava Nagila: The Movie” takes a more compelling turn once it begins to underscore the relevance of the song. Showcasing the two families whose ancestors hold disputed claim to authoring the song is only so interesting, and a montage of the classic song being performed in such diverse settings as Thailand and Estonia demonstrates the staying power of the melody. It may not have the most dramatic subject in history, but “Hava Nagila: The Movie” would have benefited from a greater trust in the fact that its topic is worthy of a film.


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