WE ARE GOING TO AMERICA (Efim Gribov, 1992)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Drawing inspiration from stories by Sholom Aleichem, including “Boy Motl,” and paintings by Marc Chagall, Efim Gribov’s My yedem v Ameriku is a tapestry of present and past, hardship and hope, reality and reverie, humanity and ghosts. An impoverished Jewish family, along with neighbors, commit to a rough odyssey from their nineteenth-century Russian shtetl to America. Along the way they encounter a carnival of folks, trials, adventures. This is not an immigrant saga, focused on the group’s arrival at their destination; it is all about the journey, what moves it ahead and holds it together. There are discussions. Two children address what a pogrom is. Two other characters, before breaking into song and dance, discuss when the Messiah will come. Part of this part of the journey is by train; part of it, by foot. The group is robbed twice. “All Jews are rich!” one of the assailants insists.
     Heading the family is the widow of a cantor who was killed. However, the film’s protagonist is 11-year-old Motl, her younger son, to whose heightened perception its surrealism and sense of wonder are keyed. This boy, who seems to inhabit both material and spiritual worlds, is associated with equally gentle wild birds. We watch him feed one seeds from his lips; we later watch him let the bird (or another) go. The bird’s upward translates into the boy’s onward, and the moment achieves a poignancy both light and momentous.
     The mostly sepia palette makes the film a continuous animated photograph—a richly populated memory. We bring to the film our own historical memory—of the pogroms, the Holocaust. At the odyssey’s outset, when the family begs its way onto the train, we brave the terrible irony.
     We Are Going to America honors Jewish losses, Jewish survival.

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