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'Left Luggage'

Review: Relationships keep 'Left Luggage' from being too heavy

Thursday, March 01, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The characters in "Left Luggage," tonight's opening attraction in the annual Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival at the Loews Waterfront, carry a lot of psychological baggage.

Chaya (Laura Fraser), a philosophy student in Antwerp, seems enamored of revolution but is really just smitten with the young man leading the charge. Her parents (Maximillian Schell and Marianne Sagebrecht) are Holocaust survivors. The Kalmans (Jeroen Krabbe, who also directed the film, and Isabella Rossellini), a Hasidic couple who has hired Chaya as a nanny, have a 4-year-old son, Simcha (Adam Monty), who doesn't speak. They live in a building with a concierge (David Bradley) who is always muttering about Jews.


"Left Luggage"

Rating: Not rated; contains nudity and some harsh language.

Starring: Laura Fraser, Isabella Rossellini, Chaim Topol.

Director: Jeroen Krabbe.

Critic's call: 21/2 stars


By the time the movie ends, Chaya learns something about the value of tradition, and the Kalmans are shown to be human beings rather than merely austere religious fanatics, which is how many of the characters in the film view them, including Chaya and her parents.

Stereotypes die hard, and this movie perpetuates a few in its own right. Sagebrecht, for example, plays the nightmare of all Jewish mothers -- criticizing her daughter nonstop for minutes on end when Chaya comes to visit, feeding everyone cake or soup whether they want it or not, kvetching about her husband and dealing with the past by ignoring it.

Such people exist, God knows, but most of them have their good points, too, or at least some mitigating element. Chaya's mother could send the sunniest optimist in search of Dr. Kevorkian.

Chaya's father comes off more sympathetically just for being stuck with his wife. But he's become so obsessed with the past -- and particularly with retrieving two suitcases filled with family heirlooms (the "left luggage" of the title) that he buried while trying to flee the Nazis -- that he talks of nothing else to a woman who doesn't want to hear it. Maybe he deserves a little of his strife.

It turns out Mr. Kalman has his own underlying reasons for finding fault with Simcha, terrifying the boy to the point where he's always wetting his pants. No wonder he doesn't speak.

What saves the film from such obviousness (and a few rather overstated performances) are the relationships between Chaya and several of the characters: an older neighbor (Chaim Topol) who dispenses wisdom and acts as a sounding board; Mrs. Kalman, who seems to be on the edge of hysterics at times and yet always finds an inner calm to lean on; and Simcha, who merely has to smile adorably to make a connection despite his inner traumas.

"Left Luggage" could take a cue from him.

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