Dir. Jan Schutte. Germany/Austria/US 2007. 86 min.
Jan Schutte's adaptation of three short-stories by the Yiddish writer and Nobel-prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer will attract mostly mature audiences who will identify with its central character, octogenarian writer Max Kohn. Like most adaptations of works by great authors, the picture faces the difficulty of translating the magic of words into images, and though Schutte doesn't quite rise to the challenge, he is greatly helped by the presence of veteran Viennese stage actor Otto Tausig, who inhabits the character of Max Kohn as if were been born into it.
Festivals have plenty of room for films which can expand their audience, while the film should carve a limited but solid commercial niche.
Max Kohn (Tausig) is a sprightly 80-year old writer with a high reputation and a loyal following. As interested in life as he ever was, Kohn is a confirmed bachelor whose long-standing relationship with Reisel (Perlman) is constantly marred by her more-often-than-not justified jealous streak.
Kohn is always ready for romantic adventure, and if none is available, he relies on his imagination to invent stories in which women flock to him with decent and not so decent proposals, which he accepts with a wide-eyed innocence that is nothing if not facetious.
The flights of imagination he indulges in the course of the film lead him first to a portly but interesting widow (Aaron), then to a slightly damaged, sex-hungry Mexican woman (Pena), and finally to a disconsolate widow (Tovah Feldshuh) hoping for a fresh start.
Amongst these imaginary encounters is a real life incident. Following a lecture in Hanover, Kohn meets with a former student of his (Hershey) who is now a professor in her own right. They spend the night together.
Throughout these real and imaginary episodes, Kohn's concerns with old age, sexual activity and the question (which is also the last line of the film) 'why are we born and doomed to die', keep emerging in various forms.
Kohn moves around in a slightly befuddled state, trying, not very successfully, to lie his way out of Reisel's suspicions.
Schutte quite faithfully follows Singer's prose, but his interpretations come in second best to the original writing. Schutte, while he has the benefit of a great cameraman, Edward Klosinski, doesn't link the images in a comparably cogent, natural flow. The best example is listening to Kohn in one scene, as he starts to read Singer's story Old Love. The perfectly solid visualization nevertheless lacks the writing's touches of genius.
The ladies in Max Kohn's life have a hard time matching Tausig's perfectly tuned performance, which is whimsical and humorous and yet also melancholy. While Hershey and Perlman are the most natural, Feldshuh, Pena and Aaron are less comfortable in their roles.
The editing is relaxed, and a pleasant score with befitting Central European echoes adds to the congeniality of the proceedings.
Zero Fiction (Ger)
Zero West Filmproduktion (Ger)
Fortissimo Films (Neth)
W. Wilder Knight II
Jan Schutte, based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's stories The Briefcase, Alone, Old Love