|Directed by:||Ron Goldman||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2003||Running Time:||58 mins|
|Language:||Hebrew (English subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||Wikipedia entry on the Struma ship||Category:||israel|
A doomed ship’s failed journey to Palestine opens up a whole new world of intrigue and hidden truths. Le Grand Akshan began as an exploration of the ill-fated final trip of the Struma in 1942, but the family secrets the filmmaker discovers chart a new course that is fraught with complication.
“You hear the story, and you hear the story again, and somehow it affects the human soul,” filmmaker Ron Goldman’s grandfather Ezra says of the Struma. “For what is the human soul, after all? It’s just a tapestry of stories.”
The heart of Le Grand Akshan is the hidden history so many Jewish families share in the unspoken stories about their pasts and “the old country.” Reading a newspaper article about the search for the remains of the Struma, which sunk carrying Jewish refugees from Axis-allied Romania to Palestine, Goldman is shocked when his grandmother reveals that his great-great-grandfather Luzer was one of the more than 700 passengers who perished that day in the waters of the Black Sea. This once-unspoken family history leads Goldman to dig deeper and further, until he has revealed a narrative that is deeply complex, and says more about his legacy than his ancestors ever hoped to share.
At the center of this narrative is Goldman’s great-grandfather, Luger’s son Grisha, a man whose tenacity earned him the professional nickname, Le Grand Akshan, or “the truly stubborn one.” Goldman once considered his great-grandfather a source of embarrassment because of the corny middle name he inherited from the mysterious “man with the sharp, piercing look” whose picture hung in his grandmother’s study. He is shocked to learn the central role that Grisha played in helping his family escape the Holocaust. His heroics involved a harrowing series of moves that took him to Romania, Iraq, India and, eventually, the young state of Israel, where Grisha entered the nascent cinema industry. Goldman becomes fascinated with his great-grandfather, and the drive to learn more about him fuels Goldman to complete the film.
To flesh out the details of Grisha’s journey, Goldman interviews the gatekeepers of his family’s lore. “Don’t think you’ll find out things I don’t know about,” his grandmother Sascha admonishes him. “There are no such things.”
Maybe not, but Goldman learns plenty. As photo albums are inspected and record halls are culled, Goldman’s knowledge grows, and the secrets come out — from the discovery that Luzer may have had a secret wife to great-grandmother Lily’s bizarre attempt to raise Sascha’s sister Sonia as a boy.
Goldman successfully arranges the pieces of the puzzle in an engaging and thoughtful narrative. His lively narration makes for an enjoyable complement to the tinkling keys of the film’s piano soundtrack. Even more effective is his cross-cutting of the various stories his subjects tell, interweaving family interviews with archival photographs and footage dug up from attics and government archives alike. He even manages to dig up a bit of silent stock footage of the bespectacled Grisha, breathing life into the once-static image of “the short-sighted person with the far reaching vision who saved his family from the horrors of the World War.”
Inspired by the man of the same name, Le Grand Akshan is an expertly composed essay about ancestral roots, remembrance and the importance of family. Moreover, his tale may just inspire the viewer to crack open some photo albums and delve into their own familial tapestry, discovering secrets both unexpected and wonderful.