Friday, March 29, 2019

Movie with Abe: The Last


The Last
Directed by Jeff Lipsky
Released March 29, 2019

In tight-knit families, the identities of older generations that have overcome a great deal often come to define their descendants. This is particularly true of those who survived the Holocaust and came to America after enduring unimaginable suffering at the hands of people that sought to wipe them out because of their religion. While this caused some survivors to lose faith in a deity that could allow this to happen, some clung stronger to their beliefs, which in turn can lead to either a harsh resistance to observance or a full embrace of it by their own children and grandchildren.

Josh (AJ Cedeno) is the great-grandson of Claire (Rebecca Schull), a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor. His fiancée Olivia (Jill Durso) converts to Judaism before their wedding, and they constitute the most religiously observant members of the family, identifying as Modern Orthodox. After their wedding, they learn a very surprising truth about the aging Claire in a moment of unexpected honesty: that she worked as a nurse in Auschwitz and adopted a new identity when she left for America. Devastated at this revelation, Josh and the rest of his family grapple with how to deal with this news and how they should treat this matriarch that they now view in a completely different light.

This is a film that posits a wild development, one that shakes each member of this multi-general family to their core. What makes it less convincing is the extreme passion behind the views that Claire suddenly shares with her great-grandson and his wife, memories that may be bubbling to the surface after years of being repressed but which don’t track with the person that she has become and how she has molded her family as a result. Similarly, their reactions feel oddly specific and targeted, obsessed with circumcision and parenting practices that seem all too focused for what this means overall to their heritage and their identity, hardly true to life.

Like the script, the performances in this film are far from stellar, though ninety-year-old Schull does deliver a moderately compelling turn that, like her character, moves in and out of being truly coherent. Josh is a thinly-defined character and Cedeno portrays him as such, whereas Durso makes Olivia seem incredibly – and overly – enlightened, previously the only member of the family to choose Judaism and embrace it without any part of her past influencing her new life. This film has bold ambitions and doesn’t quite achieve them, taking questionable directions in terms of its plot and ultimately answering far fewer questions than it poses.

C

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