|Directed by:||Jeroen Krabbé||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||1998||Running Time:||120 min.|
|More Info:||Wikipedia Entry on Left Luggage||Category:||Feature Films|
An award winning, coming-of-age drama starring Isabella Rossellini, Left Luggage tells the compelling story of the defiant daughter of Holocaust survivors whose world is turned upside down, and then right side up, when chance throws her lot in with a Hasidic family.
“I mean…on and on and on about that war! I’m just fed up with this whole Jewish thing!” Chaya tells her friend. When he replies that that’s a shame because he knows a Hasidic family that needs a nanny, the unemployed Chaya scoffs and retorts, “I’m not going to work for those idiots!”
Left Luggage follows the irreverent and irreligious Chaya as she comes to terms with her family’s history. Before the war, Chaya’s father buried two suitcases full of his most precious belongings; and now, thirty years later, his obsession with finding his “left luggage” is driving his wife — who’d much rather forget the past — mad. Initially, Chaya is indifferent to her father’s cause, but her relationship with the Hasidic Kalman family and an encounter with a shocking tragedy make her more sympathetic, realizing that in order to survive in a harsh world, sometimes you have to do things that seem crazy.
Desperation brings Chaya and the Kalman family together. Chaya is going to be evicted if she doesn’t pay rent soon. And, with five children and too much housework, Mrs. Kalman (Isabella Rossellini) has her hands so full she’s willing to hire even a Jewishly-unobservant woman who wears pants to care for her children. But soon after taking the job, Chaya wants to quit. The endless rules of Orthodox Judaism and the pressure of doing things correctly is too much for her to handle.
It’s Simcha, the shy middle-child with bright red hair who lures Chaya into staying. At four-years-old, Simcha still wets his pants, clings to his mother’s leg, and doesn’t speak. Unlike his older brothers, the delicate little boy is easily frightened by his strict father, and the severe culture in which he’s being raised fills him with anxiety. It’s only with his gentle nanny that he learns to relax, as the two spend their afternoons feeding ducks in the park.
Left Luggage is a surprisingly compassionate film that gives it characters the benefit of the doubt, understanding that no one is perfect, that people behave the way they do for a reason and, more often than not, everyone is just trying to do the best they can. Even the film’s most unlikable character, a curmudgeonly old bigot, gets some sympathy. He treats other people miserably, because he himself is miserable: his job is fruitless, he’s unhappy, and his only friend is an ugly, old dog.
Similarly, Left Luggage offers a rare look at the Hasidic culture that portrays the ultra-religious as no better or worse than those who’ve chosen to live in the secular, modern world. They aren’t saints or fools; they’ve just made different lifestyle choices, the film argues. “They endure everything–mockery, hate, even disgust,” an old, wise friend tells Chaya, “that’s the price they’re willing to pay to remain who they are.”
But they can still learn something from an outsider. Through her example, Chaya teaches the Kalman family the importance of standing up for what you know is right — and that defiance can be a good thing. “Many daughters of Israel behaved courageously,” Mrs. Kalman tells Chaya, “but you’ve surpassed them all.”
Likewise, the Kalmans also teach Chaya a much needed lesson in humility. The stubborn twenty-year-old is forced to realize that her screaming protests aren’t always appropriate, and that you can’t judge someone until you really know them.
This lesson is applied to Chaya’s father’s seemingly insane search for his left luggage. While most would judge him a madman, his wife understands the roots of his obsession with finding his old suitcases. “It’s not the luggage he lost in that dirty war–it’s himself, Chaya’s mother tells her, “he’s out there in a temperature of 30 degrees digging for himself.”
In the end, Chaya must choose her loyalties and her battles. She can either roll her eyes dismissively at her loon of a father, madly digging in the cold, or she can grab a shovel and help.