Virtually unannounced, Steve Brand's "Kaddish" has slipped into the Inner Circle theater. This strangely powerful documentary searches out the intersection between history and home movies, between the enormity of the Holocaust and the relationship of a father and son.
"Kaddish" (literally, the Hebrew prayer for the dead) tells the story of Yossi Klein, a free-lance journalist and "professional demonstrator" from Brooklyn's Borough Park, driven always by his legacy. His father Zoltan narrowly escaped execution during the horrible four-month period at the end of the war when the Nazis occupied Hungary and Hitler exterminated about 400,000 Hungarian Jews, including Zoltan's parents. Zoltan escaped to Romania, hiding out underground in a bunker the size of a grave. These were the tales that came to form Yossi's "Holocaust bedtime stories."
Brand started out with the idea of filming several children of Holocaust survivors, but quickly focused on Yossi, and it's easy to see why. The Holocaust became a daily reality for him early on -- in the sixth grade, he was writing articles headlined "It Could Happen Here" and organizing civil defense units. "Would the Borough Park ghetto rise up? That was a constant theme," he recalls. He regularly protested on behalf of Soviet Jewry, even in Moscow (where he and his group attempted to occupy the visa office).
Yossi Klein found himself caught between the rock and the hard place of the Holocaust: Remember, and wreck your life with nightmares; forget, and risk that it might happen again. Brand's rough, messy editing style gives this double edge of historical remembrance a personal, undeniable immediacy. Yossi is obsessed with his father's past, but highly articulate and introspective, too -- the ideal interview subject, and the ideal narrator of his own life.
Permeating that narration is a sense of Yossi's inadequacy before the image of his father. Most children struggle with a fancifully heroic picture of their fathers, but in Yossi's case, there was nothing fanciful about it -- Zoltan really was a hero. Brand shot the movie over five years, so you get to watch Yossi step by step, through his depression and rebellion (he once wrote an article comparing Borough Park Hasidim to East Village punks), to a kind of acceptance.
Midway through the shooting of "Kaddish," Zoltan Klein died, an event that condenses and accelerates the movie. Yossi now must, literally, put his father behind him -- life has left him no other choice. And he does so by seeing his father, not merely as a figure of victimization, but as a survivor. At the end, we're told that Yossi has finally married and settled in Israel. He has said his kaddish. And he, too, has survived.Kaddish, at the Inner Circle, is unrated but contains some powerful photographs and footage from the Holocaust that may be disturbing to children.