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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Holocaust > Judaism > A Life Apart (Documentary)

A Life Apart – Hasidism in America


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Film: B



A few years ago, a full-length film about the building of the Hasidic Jewish community was made.  A Life Apart (1997) does an incredible job chronicling the way in which Hasidic Jews emigrated from Europe and were the only of many great ethnic groups to literally rebuild their nearly-lost culture in the United States in a spiritual brick-by-brick fashion, reestablishing the entire school of thought and practice uncompromised.  When the society was telling them to assimilate, they found a way to co-exist on their own terms.


Of course, it is the greatest triumph of all, overcoming the Final Solution on their terms 100%, so it is not a slight against the U.S. or any of its current residents.  This film simply and eloquently shows that operation and on first viewing, you will see why this offered a community of history, culture, and faith Hitler knew he had to get rid of for him to go unchallenged as the genocidal menace he became.  Whether you believe in this form of faith (if any), or not, you have to appreciate the beauty and accomplishment of a following that helped build the world we know today.  I do not agree with some of the ways I observed, and others of the actual faith who left this version of it are interviewed throughout.


The producing/directing team of Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky have crafted a well informed and remarkably enduring film that is now more valuable than ever.  The unlikely but effective pair of Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker co-deliver the voiceover narration here, while the interviews and comments picked weave a vivid portrait that shows us something really special about a way of life that still survives today.  It also manages to remind the viewer of all the great culture gone, somewhat by choice, in this country, especially against one that was almost viciously and brutally wiped out.  That is why this is a film everyone needs to check out.


The full-screen, color image comes from an above-average transfer of the nicely filmed material.  Often, there is so much to see that this would have never worked as well on any video format, then or now.  The camera and editing always make you feel like you are there, in the moment, learning about the heart of the matter.  That keeps you watching, even when the transfer is a tad dated.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is about as good as it is going to get.  Though the spoken interviews work out, the music has unnecessary distortion in what is the one technical error of the film.  The theatrical sound format used is the ever-dreadful Ultra Stereo.  This was a cheap version of old Dolby-A analog noise reduction with monophonic surrounds.  The distortion is unfortunate and this Dolby version on the DVD does not even offer surrounds when decoded in Pro Logic.  Maybe going back to the original sound masters, which hopefully still exist, would be nice to do down the line for a digital theatrical reissue.  This will pass for its DVD release.


Extras include the co-producer/director’s audio commentary track, their biographies, and an interview with the New York PBS affiliate made at the time of the film’s theatrical release.  There could have been some kind of update added, but this is still a nice plus.  The important thing here is the main program, and down the line, it may finally be recognized as a classic for what it says about religion, culture, survival, and the United States, all of which is good for a change.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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