Sunday, November 8, 2009

Andrew Jacobs' FOUR SEASONS LODGE: the summer of aging Holocaust survivors

"I was the only one of 300 people left alive," explains a Holocaust survivor who now spends some of each summer along with others of his kind in an isolated rural re-
sort in New York's Catskill Mountains. Because this seasonal holiday has been go-
ing on for 25 years, time and attrition has culled the group's membership consider-
ably -- and will even more before this 97-minute film has drawn to a close.
The new documentary about these aging seniors, by Andrew Jacobs (shown at left), with some of its photography done by Albert Maysles, is a catch-as-catch-can look at their lives as they prepare for, arrive at, spend their holiday in, and then leave -- perhaps for the last time -- FOUR SEASONS LODGE, their hallowed place of refuge that also provides the film's title. At one time, we are told, there were 150 of these post-Holocaust survivor colonies. Now there is but one and, thanks to Jacobs and his crew, we're visiting it: hearing the memories and watching these old friends interact by way of jokes, parties, meals, singing, dancing and discussion.

Regarding religion, it seems that most of the guys don't believe in god, while the gals do. One of the singers on hand could give the infamous Mrs. Miller a run for her money, another seems to be channeling Carmen Miranda. For me the most interesting people proved the two women, Olga and Genya, life-long friends who consistently squabble but seem to enjoy each other immensely. I wish we learned more about these two. Some of the most interes-
ting talk centers around love and relationships during WWII: "They would say, whenever a marriage proved no good, that Hitler was the matchmaker." Any suspense the film musters hangs on whether or not the resort will be shut down at the end of this year. Yet, at this point in time, even if it does not close this year, then it will the next. Or the next, as fewer and fewer survivors remain.

There's no real narration in the film, just footage and sound. Some of that sound rings awfully prosaic and cliché -- "Every good thing comes to an end" (everything bad thing doesn't?) -- but then, that's how most of us speak past a certain age (and sometimes well before that age). For all the in-your-face footage, we don't get to know any of these very people well because, other than their Holocaust experience, we learn only a pittance about their background and current lives. It appears that Jacobs, Maysles and the other photographers shot the film on the fly. Everything is often in a state of agitation, as though every moment had to be LIVED: Let's eat, let's dance, let's joke, let's sing! As one woman notes, "This is our revenge on Hitler. To live this long, this well, is a victory." Still, I found myself wondering how much more might have been gained from some quiet, lengthy one-on-one chats that probed a bit. Perhaps the participants preferred not to. Genya, for instance, seems unable to talk about wartime, saying that she may do this one day -- on her deathbed.

There is something about this movie that signals us, because it deals with holocaust survivors, that it must be automatically interesting. And it is -- though I am not certain, after we've seen as much as we now have about that subject, that it is interesting enough. For that matter, I'm not sure my life or those of most of the people my age that I know -- say, the little co-op building here in Jackson Heights where we live and where most of our co-tenants are seniors or fast approaching that state -- would be all that interesting, either. Our lives could be quite fascinating if they included our past and how we interact now with the world outside, rather than within only our small, constrained group. But this is something -- by necessity, I suppose -- that we get little of from Four Seasons Lodge. Instead, it's all Holocaust, all the time: reminiscing about, living in the shadow of, and reacting against. This is fine, so far as it goes, but it's not enough.

And don't let the nice, juicy kiss (above) -- which might have you imagining you're in store for more Cloud 9 -- fool you. Four Seasons Lodge, tame indeed in that regard, has other things on its mind regarding relationships. The film opens this Wednesday, November 11, via First Run Features, at New York City's IFC Center. Upcoming playdates, with theaters and cities, can be found here (click, then scroll down).

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