Left Luggage

Starring: Jeroen Krabbe, Isabella Rossellini, Maximilian Schell and Marianne Sagebrecht
Arrow Films
RRP: 15.99
Certificate: PG
Available 03 July 2006

A young Jewish girl, Chaya, takes a job as nanny to an orthodox Hasidic family in '70s Antwerp. She immediately connects with their four year old, apparently mute, child Simcha (Adam Monty) and through the love and affection that she shows the boy discovers that the boy can speak. However, things around her are not so happy. Melancholy pervades nearly everyone she meets as the devastation of the Holocaust continues to reverberate in those that survived. Simcha's father, Mr Kalman, is afraid to love his son as he bears a striking resemblance to Kalman's brother, who he was forced to watch being hung by the Nazi's. Chaya's own father obsessively digs around the streets of Antwerp trying to find the suitcases that he had buried during the war. It seems that everyone has some left luggage in their lives which they are searching for, so how long can it be before Chaya has some left luggage of her own...?

Left Luggage (1998) was directed by Jeroen Krabbe, who is most probably better known as an actor, having played in films such as Oceans' Twelve and The Fugitive. Krabbe also stars in Left Luggage as Chaya's Hasidic employer, Mr Kalman. It is his debut film as a director.

The film has an excellent cast. Along with Laura Fraser, who plays the lead role, the film also boasts the talents of Isabella Rossellini, Maximillian Schell and Chaim Topol. Though Isabella as an ultra-orthodox Jew was a casting oddity, she plays her part to perfection - of course it just might be me, as I'd only just finished watching Death Becomes Her, where she is scary, funny and practically nude. Schell, Krabbe and Topol convey the complexities of their characters well. Each in their own way, they are men whose pasts where so devastating that rather than just informing their present it dominates it, almost to the exclusion of anything else, including love. Topol plays the lightest character, Mr Apfelschnitt, as he takes the role of mentor to Chaya, a position that her father fails to fulfil due to his own obsession. Mr Kalman and Chaya's father's worlds are almost as introspective as Simcha's, though each achieves a certain level of redemption at the end of the film.

Without giving away a plot twist that comes out of nowhere, the ending of the film is genuinely touching; it brought a lump to my throat. The film, of course, could be accused of over sentimentality, but then that is no bad thing. The sentimentality in the film is never so sugar coated that it sticks in your throat. The various Jewish characters bear the burdens of the past and the horrors of the Holocaust, that could do little less than scar them for life. The film also contains much understated conflict between the very orthodox family, which Chaya goes to work for, and her own liberalism. Initially, the film gives the impression that her introduction into the family will help heal their wounds and bring them to a more liberal stance. But, as the film progresses, it is Chaya who slowly begins to change. She learns to embrace her religion and all the horrors of the past which that entails. In doing so she comes to a deeper understanding of her father and mother.

The film is not above questioning whether the level of paranoia demonstrated by her orthodox employers is not justified. They are persecuted by the janitor, who takes every opportunity to bestow indignities. The benches of the park, where she takes Simcha to play, are daubed with Nazi slogans and most telling of all is Chaya's friend who finds it difficult to understand why she would want to work with such a creepy family and expresses surprise that Chaya is, herself, Jewish just because she doesn't look like one - whatever that means.

The print is a bit washed out, giving a sort of made for television feel. Sound is stereo but this still holds up very well, with every sound coming over crystal clear. Surprisingly enough the disc does come with some extras, though sadly no directors commentary. What you do get is the films trailer, cast biographies for six of the lead actors and a photo gallery, which given that this isn't a Hollywood blockbuster isn't too bad.

Overall, the film takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. There is joy at Chaya's continual defiance of the janitors treatment, joy when she elicits Simcha's first word and sadness on so many other levels. You may need to get a box of tissues to watch the film but the price will be one worth paying.

Charles Packer

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