Hester Street

Hester Street


Reviewed by: Caro Ness

Hester Street is an interesting debut film by Joan Micklin Silver, concerning the Jewish emigration to the US at the turn of the century. Adapted from Abraham Cahan’s story, Yekl, it concerns Jake, a Jew who has so thoroughly Americanised himself that by the time he sends for his wife and son, their old fashioned ways, superstitions and stubborn attachment to tradition, culture and belief shock and shame him, so he distances himself further from them. The film is a simple slice of everyday life, showing us a family’s inability to reconnect as they adapt differently to a new country and new conventions.

Filmed deliberately in black-and-white, with subtitles, Silver makes us feel that this is an authentic piece of social history. To have used colour would have been a mistake, making it into a knee-jerk weepie, rather than an interesting piece of feminist cinema that is thought provoking and raises more questions than it answers. However, on the down side, it does start slowly, takes a while to get going and is a bit self-conscious and old worldly. I confess I did get a bit impatient with it and suspect many of today’s filmgoers will too.

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Carol Kane received an Oscar nomination for her performance as Gitl. This might be a trifle generous, but her performance certainly merits more than admiration since she really inhabits the skin of her character.

You can see flashes of the director that went on to make Crossing Delancey. One might say that the low budget accounted for the small sets but I would like to think that this was a deliberate ploy to reinforce the feeling of claustrophobia that pervades Gitl’s world.

I have mixed feelings about the film. On the one hand, I think that Silver achieved what she set out to do. On the other, I became frustrated with the slow pace and the claustrophobic feel to it. I also felt that whilst Kane’s performance was good, it was a tad over-intense for me.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2008
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The Americanisation of Jewish immigrants in New York at the turn of the 20th century.
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Director: Joan Micklin Silver

Writer: Joan Micklin Silver, based on the story by Abraham Cahan

Starring: Carol Kane, Steven Keats, Mel Howard, Dorrie Kavanaugh, Doris Roberts, Anna Berger, Ed Crowley, Paul Freedman, Sol Frieder, Lauren Frost, Martin Garner, Zane Lasky

Year: 1975

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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