(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jewish mothers have been not portrayed very kindly on the silver screen, to put it mildly. Overbearing, smothering and generally pains in the tuchus, most of them are best forgotten. Others are so saintly that they only marginally resemble human beings. That’s why it was so refreshing to see Charlotte Gainsbourg’s portrayal of an attractive and inventive woman who also happens to be a nutty Jewish mom in the recent film Promise at Dawn, based on Romain Gary’s memoir. This mother is convinced that her son can do anything, even assassinate Hitler, so she gives him a gun during the 1930s and tells him to head to Berlin and get rid of the fuhrer, almost the only time in the film he doesn’t obey her.
The excellent 2001 documentary Mamadrama: The Jewish Mother in Cinema by Monique Schwarz, covers the Jewish mother’s image in approximately the first 100 years of movie-making. It includes discussion of such Yiddish classics as the 1937 Where is My Child?, where Celia Adler portrays a mother pining for the son she placed in an orphanage; Yiddish-adjacent films such as The Jazz Singer and adaptations of great Jewish novels like Portnoy’s Complaint.
But now that so many more Jewish women are actually movie executives, writers and directors, it seems logical that Jewish mothers will get a fairer shake on screen these days. So, to coincide with Mother’s Day in the US, here are a few recent Jewish-mother movies from around the world that you can watch to mark the day. Not surprisingly, almost all of them are directed and/or written by women.
1. Look at Us Now, Mother! – In Gayle Kirschenbaum’s funny and ultimately moving documentary, she examines her rocky relationship with her mother and transforms it.
2. The Guilt Trip – Barbra Streisand plays Seth Rogen’s mother in this shtick-filled road trip movie by Anne Fletcher. Streisand and Rogen were meant to share the screen.
3. Turn Left at the End of the World – Avi Nesher’s film looks at an intense friendship between teen girls, one Indian and one Moroccan, in a development town and explores the relationships between these girls, who want to become full-fledged Israelis, and their mothers, who cling to the traditions of their homelands.
4. Prime – Meryl Streep has played everything, so why not an Orthodox Jewish psychiatrist who discovers that her son is having an affair with one of her gentile patients?
5. A Tale of Love and Darkness – Natalie Portman adapted, directed and starred in this screen version of Amos Oz’s memoir, which emphasizes his mother’s vulnerability and her unconditional love for him.
6. Three Mothers – Dina Zvi-Riklis’s drama tells the story of female Jewish triplets born in Alexandria who emigrate to Israel. The movie follows their lives both in the present and when they were young women, and stars several of Israel’s most celebrated actresses, including Gila Almagor, Reymonde Amsallem, Tali Sharon and singer Miri Mesika.
7. To Take a Wife – Ronit Elkabetz, Israel’s most acclaimed actress, portrayed so many wonderful Jewish mothers, but To Take a Wife, in which she plays a Moroccan wife torn between her love for her children and her desire for freedom from a stifling marriage, is one of her finest performances.
8. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds – I know, I know, Carrie Fisher is only Jewish according to the Reform movement, and Debbie Reynolds isn’t Jewish at all, but their loving and crazy relationship seems so Jewish. Plus Reynolds was married to Eddie Fisher and she died just a couple of days after Fisher passed away, so that should count for something.
9. Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers – Barbra Streisand, with the help of her on-screen husband, Dustin Hoffman, smothers and embarrasses her son, Ben Stiller, in these two follow-ups to Meet the Parents.
10. Sweet Mud – Dror Shaul’s coming-of-age drama about a young boy on a kibbutz coping with his lively and beautiful mother’s mental illness features a wonderful performance by Ronit Yudkevitz.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>