a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Jews’

“Le Village Francais” Is a Mixed Bag. French TV Series on WWII now on MhZ

French VillageMuch as I admire its’ audacity and ambitious reach of subject, the entire history of World War II, as encaptured in the life of a “French Village,” I hate to say it but this hit European TV series is very hit and miss.

It sounds good on paper. Each season of the TV series will focus on a different year in the occupation of France by the Germans during WWII.  And it starts off with a bang, as a group of school children go out to play on a field trip on a sun-dappled day in the tiny town of Villeneuve, a fictional subprefecture in the Jura region of France.

German planes suddenly are seen over head and begin shooting up everything in sight, including the children. A horrifying beginning, to be sure. But then we are slowly introduced to the characters and I have to say I had no great feelings for any of them.

Sure, the SITUATION they are is in riveting, but only up to a point. And the actors all look so similar it’s very hard to keep them and their plot-lines straight. The exception is Robin Renucci, a doctor who is co-erced into becoming the town’s reluctant Mayor.

Robin Renucci 1And he is forced to do many things that he does not want to do within the course of the 10 episode series. Each episode a little under the hour in length. He is actually by his acceptance of the Mayoral position, an unwitting symbol of the Vichy government. His bourgeois family continues to live well as all around him begin to starve due to ration restrictions.

The actors all being dark-haired and dark-eyed and average-looking, it took me a long time to sort out their different characters and predicaments. However, the incredible attention to war-time detail does fascinate. Some one can be jailed for just booing Hitler in a newsreel in a movie theater, for instance.

Then there’s the leftists who want to insert resistance pamphlets in all the daily newspapers. And do. But the characters doing this are all sadly two dimensional.

The Jewish question, and there a lot of Jews in this small town, is pretty much a non-issue until the latter part of Season One. Our understanding of WWII is so much based on the plight of the Jews that that part of the series suddenly springs to life as the Season ends.

It’s a great record of the period, though and I particularly loved the Special Features wherein the actual townspeople these characters are often based on get to speak, in French, of their own real-life stories and they are all hair-raising.

Being set so far out in the country the full impact of the War hits them only gradually, in stages. And it is truly harrowing, as one by one their liberties and freedoms and businesses and lives are all taken over by the  occupying Germans.

I am looking forward to Season Two. Maybe this time they’ll have more relatable characters.

“Becoming Dr. Ruth” A surprise & a triumph!

Who knew that behind the facade of one of the most unlikely Pop Culture/TV icons of the last century lay such a tragic back story? “Becoming Dr. Ruth” lays all that bare to chilling, enlightening, suspenseful effect. It’s a one hour 40 min. show, with no intermission but it flew by at 100 mph. Powered by an unforgettable performance by Debra Jo Rupp as the eponymous title character. And oh yes, it’s one woman show.

At the always charming Westside Theater on W.43rd St., it’s pint-sized house and stage is just the right size for this tiny titan’s staggering story.

She is simply packing up her Washington Heights apartment that she shared with her late third husband. The stage is full of brown packing boxes, which trigger, doing the most mundane of casts, in the plainest of settings, but with the most gorgeous views of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridges, Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s many memories of her childhood destroyed by Hitler and the holocaust come flooding back .Each item she packs invariably reminds of childhood moments. memories, both devastating and sweet.

As a child, she was sent out of her Frankfurt Orthodox Jewish home on the Kindertransport that got her safely to Switzerland for the remainder of the war, but she never say her father, mother and grandmother again. These memories are told plainly and without sentimental effect as Dr. Ruth, formerly Karola Sigel, lays them out in stark detail. You think “Great! She escaped to Switzerland!” but the loss of her family, and later in life, her  seeking to rebuild her own, as  first on a kibbutz in Israel and then later in Paris and finally New York, haunts her. And us.

The loss of her parents, about whom she was never able to find any information, is an ineffable tragedy that powers her drive to succeed, and succeed she does! As America’s Go-To guru of sexual advice in the ’70s. She clearly helps rebuild Americans’ damaged libidos and spirits with her always jovial, infectious optimism, which is the note on which the play ends, as she finally says proudly displaying a picture of her four grandchildren, “You see, Hitler, you lost.”

“Becoming Dr. Ruth” is the best new play I’ve seen so far this season, and although there is only one woman on stage, Debra Jo Rupp, fills it with Dr. Ruth’s ebullient, indomitable spirit, and a cast of thousands.

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