Count the derogatory characteristics stereotypically applied to Jews and confirmed by this scathing film: pushy, two-faced, greedy, power-hungry, untrustworthy, social-climbing, controlling, puppet-masters of the government - there are more but let’s start with these. Under the guise of being a soft-spoken, gentle schlemiel - the kind of man who knows how to manipulate an invite to a billionaire’s dinner party but shows up wearing a newsboy’s cap that signals why he doesn’t belong - Richard Gere plays Norman, a man who lives by connecting people to other people who can do them important favors. By tailing an Israeli minister as he meanders back to his NY hotel after an important meeting, Norman eventually introduces himself in an elegant men’s shop and promises to get the minister an invitation to the billionaire’s dinner that night. To establish his credibility, he insists on paying for the minister’s exorbitantly expensive shoes - previously tried on and rejected for their extravagance. The greedy minister accepts the offer, and if adjusted for inflation, probably sells out for less than Judas did. Jews have always loved both shekels and beautiful menswear - think of Joseph and that rainbow coat.
There’s a lot more plot concerning a potty-mouthed rabbi who needs to raise money to save his temple (Steve Buscemi); a successful lawyer/nephew who needs a rabbi who will marry him to his Korean love (Michael Sheen); an Israeli prime-minister who needs to get his son accepted to Harvard (Lior Ashkenazi) - a chad gadya of the interlocking needs and wants of Israeli and American Jewry. And there are the un-subtle references to names and types to arouse a nod and smile from viewers who pick up on them - a Korean rabbi at Central Synagogue, the names Alfred Taub and Henry Kavisch. There’s the brief scene showing Norman eating pickled herring from a jar while miles away, the prime-minister is slurping oysters and the soundtrack of glorious cantorial chanting of prayers offers the spirituality that Judaism used to represent. As a movie for home-consumption in Israel, one could make the argument that Norman is an over-extended SNL sketch that skewers its leaders, movers and shakers. As a film sent out for international distribution to an increasingly anti-semitic world, its a misguided attempt at satire that will only re-enforce and inflame existing prejudice.
The writer/director of this film is Joseph Cedar who proves one point about Jewish fixers - he succeeded in rounding up an international cast of movie stars from Hollywood, Israel, England and France. As a footnote to this review, I must add my own amazement that the man who created one of the cleverest and most insightful Israeli films of recent years (FOOTNOTE) is the same man who takes attribution for this pile of lethal ammunition. The auditorium was half-full when I saw this - I can only hope that word of mouth gets this film off the circuit as quickly as you can say “it’s bad for the Jews.”
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