CAPSULE: This documentary of the life of Theodore Herzl is full of information and at the same time is disappointingly dry and un-engaging. It is essentially just a long article, perhaps like an encyclopedia entry, that tells us the facts about Herzl, the founder of Zionism. Co-written and directed by Richard Trank, it gives the viewers the facts but fails to make the character live and breathe for us. Narrated by Sir Ben Kingsley and with Christoph Waltz reading Herzl's writings, it tells us how the anti-Semitism in Europe, particularly the Dreyfus Affair, inspired Herzl to will the creation of a Jewish state. And as Herzl said, "If you will it, it is no dream." Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Who was Theodor Herzl? It is a name we do not hear a lot today. The story of his life is told in the documentary IT IS NO DREAM. He was born Benjamin Ze'ev Herzl and was a journalist and playwright born in Austro-Hungary. His family moved to Vienna where he studied law. But he could not go far in the legal profession because of strict limits on Jews in the law profession. He turned to writing plays with mixed success. Though some of his plays achieved acclaim his most steady income was as a journalist for the Neue Freie Presse. But he was horrified when news of the Dreyfus Affair in France was spread across Europe. On no evidence a Jewish captain was made a scapegoat in a French political scandal. He was sentenced to Devil's Island for life. Having suffered from anti-Jewish bigotry, Herzl was much agitated from the case and recognized that it was very possible that this hate could be focused on the Jews of Europe, a prediction that came true. The solution he decided upon was that Jews must leave Europe and have a homeland of their own where they would not face anti-Jewish bigotry. This film tells of his campaign to make the Jewish State a reality. IT IS NO DREAM tells of Herzl's efforts including how he met with many of the politically important of his day and of his frustrations. Not the least of which was that his own wife remained all her days negative on his concept of restoring a homeland for the Jews at the site of the Biblical homeland.
Sadly, the filmmakers could not fully perform the difficult trick of involving the viewer in the humanity of this stiff-seeming man with an air of formality and a bush of moustache and beard hiding his facial expression. We hear what he had to say, read by the distinguished voice of Christoph Waltz, but are not caught up in it. This film has little passion, even when showing photographs the victims of pogroms. The approach seems to be more one of putting the dry information in front of the viewer. Careful attention was probably paid to what facts would be revealed but little to how this information would be visualized. If Herzl was speaking in a particular building the camera shows us the façade of the building as it is today. Yes, it is something on the screen, but it hardly does much for the narrative. The visuals needed more thought and imagination. Perhaps there are some stories that are better for the viewer to see dramatized than to hear them told. Ben Kingsley, who is the main narrator, just seems to be dispassionately reading an article appropriate for an encyclopedia. As an example for how this sort of thing can be made engaging I can recommend last year's SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS.
IT IS NO DREAM: THE LIFE OF THEODOR HERZL was directed and co- written by RICHARD TRANK. It was also co-written by Rabbi Marvin Hier the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The film is an important one. The anti-Semitism that inspired and horrified Herzl is rising again in Europe and elsewhere. We hear surprisingly little of Theodor Herzl, a man who lived just forty-four years but whose dream really transformed the Middle East. A biography is needed, but it needs to be one that would make us understand the man. It needed to go beyond just telling us who the man was. A film is needed more vivid is needed. I rate IT IS NO DREAM: THE LIFE OF THEODOR HERZL a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2094856/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper