Thursday, March 21, 2013

Two Thumbs Up for ‘Seder’



Richard: Hi, I’m Richard Elbert, movie critic for the Denver Post.

Ethan: And I’m Ethan Lichter, movie critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. We’re devoting tonight’s show to one of our favorite directors, Japanese auteur Kawasaki Fookiyama, and his new movie, Seder, which took first place at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in the category “Most Difficult to Understand.”

Richard: Fookiyama is known for his obscure, head scratching movies – and proud of it.

Ethan: Seder is no different. What other director would dare to make the shank bone a recurring image or pose as a central question, “Why on this night do we dip twice?”

Richard: But don’t worry. Ethan and I were both Fookiyama majors in film critic’s school. In the next hour we will guide you through Seder, giving you our opinions as well as helping you understand Fookiyama’s latest achievement.

Ethan: Seder tells the story of a modern nuclear family, the Weiners, conducting an ancient Jewish ceremony in the comfort of their own dining room.

Richard: Fookiyama usually leaves the key to the meaning of his movies in the first scene. So let’s watch as the boldly determined Mr. Weiner makes an intriguing announcement to start off the Seder …

Mr. Weiner: This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover. This year [we are] here; next year in the land of Israel. This year [we are] slaves; next year [we will be] free people.

Richard: Looks like Fookiyama’s up to his old tricks. What kind of crazy director would have his main character invite all the hungry and needy in town to dinner at his house – when he’s already safe and sound at his dinner table? If you really want to have guests, put some speakers in your car and drive around before the Seder. Or buy space on a billboard on a major highway: “Seder Tonight at The Weiners, Exit 3½ Miles, Across from Denny’s – DRINKS ON THE HOUSE!!”

Ethan: But the perplexity of Mr. Weiner’s monologue doesn’t end there. Tonight the Weiners celebrate the Redemption from Egypt. So why is Mr. Weiner touting “the bread of affliction” the Jews “ate in the land of Egypt” rather than the bread they took with them when they went out as free people? And while his family is supposed to be experiencing freedom the whole night, why does Mr. Weiner say that “next year” they will be free but “this year” calls them “slaves”?

Richard: That’s kind of a bummer.

Ethan: Richard and I would like to tell you that we figured out this movie. We didn’t. But instead of pretending like we did or turning this into a Godfather retrospective, we decided to invite one of the actors from Seder to explain it. Child star Sadie Weiner, playing herself as the Weiner’s preteen, worked closely with Fookiyama in making the movie, and she’s with us tonight … Sadie, tell us, what is Fookiyama really like?

Sadie: He’s a little … How do they say it in Japan? … Meshuga.

Ethan: But he is brilliant?

Sadie: Oh, yes. He almost beat my little brother in chess.

Richard: First off, that bizarre speech your father makes at the beginning of the movie. He invites the hungry and needy to your Seder, but the only people who hear the invitation is your family.

Sadie: My five-year-old brother, Zach, had some questions for my father before we started the Seder. So in that little speech my father was answering Zach’s questions.

Richard: Why don’t we watch that …?

Mrs. Weiner: Zach, take a tissue and blow. It’s not that complicated. I don’t want to have to look at that the entire Seder.

Zach: Dad, I don’t get it. If G-d took us out of Egypt and made us free, why do I have to go to school? Why are all the Arabs still trying to kill us? Why does it take so long to download New Super Mario Forever 2012? And if we went out of Egypt with the Egyptian’s wealth as G-d promised, why are there still poor Jews?

Mr. Weiner: This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover. This year [we are] here; next year in the land of Israel. This year [we are] slaves; next year [we will be] free people.

Ethan: That kid’s incredible. I don’t care what age he is. He’s getting my vote for best supporting actor … I’m still not sure, though, how your dad answered his question.

Sadie: My father’s telling my brother that the Redemption from Egypt wasn’t complete. We’re still transitioning from slavery to freedom. That’s why we continue to eat the bread “our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.” My dad’s not inviting poor people. He’s talking about us at the Seder. We remain in spiritual poverty as long as the complete Redemption goes unrealized. That’s why he acknowledges that this year we are slaves while vowing that next year we will be free.

Richard: Then if you’re poor slaves at the Seder, why is your mother using the good china? Why aren’t you all dressed like hobos or members of the World Wrestling Federation?

Sadie: We act and feel like free people at the Seder because the Exodus from Egypt, even though it wasn’t the Final Redemption with Mashiach, was the opening and channel to the ultimate freedom.

Ethan: And how did you get into the head of your character there with your mom and dad, your brother with his runny nose, and all the matzah?

Sadie: I pictured myself as a member of a nation that embarked on a chartered flight this night many years ago, a flight that’s been en route for a long, long time. I saw the plane finally arriving tonight – all of us completing the journey together.

Richard: Sadie, that was wonderful. I think you’ve answered all our questions. Thank you for helping us out tonight. By the way, what’s your next movie going to be?

Sadie: I’m working on a project called The Haftorah Lesson. It’s a prequel to Bar Mitzvah.

Richard: Interesting. Well, good luck, Sadie!

Ethan: So, Richard, what’s the final verdict on Seder?

Richard: I want to like this movie, but something’s holding me back.

Ethan: What is it?

Richard: I hate to say it, but I think Mrs. Weiner overcooked the brisket.

Ethan: Ohhhh! But other than that?

Richard: Other than that I thought it was great.

Ethan: Fookiyama baffles you. But you know, if you’re patient and pay attention, sometimes he can make sense – and be beautiful. He can even be fun.

Richard: You know what they say: “Kawasaki lets the good times roll!”

Ethan: Rich, I realize you were waiting the whole show to say that. I just wish you’d waited a little longer.

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