Posted: Thursday, June 22, 2017 – 8:27 PM
By Carol Jean Delmar
The Quarrel, a 1991 film produced with care and sensitivity, is still pertinent today. Available on DVD, it remains a worthwhile vehicle for educational institutions and congregations to utilize for debates on a variety of issues facing the Jewish community. It took center stage at Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills just two years ago.
I was made aware of the film recently by my neighbor in Beverlywood, who spoke highly of the screenwriter, who also lives nearby.
After looking at the film’s website, I decided to test my opinions since I have written a book about my parents’ journey to America during the Holocaust. Merely 90 minutes long, the film—based on a short story by Chaim Grade with a screenplay by David Brandes— focuses on two friends (Chaim, a non-religious writer and poet; and Hersh, an Orthodox rabbi) who separate before the Holocaust after disagreeing on the role of God in their lives. Now, many years later in 1948, they meet by chance in a park in Montreal, Canada, or almost by fate, where they reminisce and discuss their present and past lives in Poland, and how being Holocaust survivors has influenced their current views.
The film is clearly focused for the Jewish community. Even the secular Chaim Kovler who is Jewish, simply doesn’t believe that God plays a role in people’s decisions and that they can work and create without religious involvement. Rabbi Hersh Rasseyner believes the opposite.
What makes this film so interesting is that this premise has branches that bring a myriad of topics to light for verbal discourse.
One is morality. The rabbi believes that man is not born noble and good. God and religion are what make man moral, he believes. Chaim, on the other hand, believes that humans are inherently good and must and do help each other.
The two men spend time together in the park, through sun and rain, talking about their roles in the fate of their families, their losses and guilts, and the Holocaust’s toll on their lives. They forgive each other, then stake out their claims.
A low-budget film directed by Eli Cohen, the few settings are cinematically artistic and fine (John Berrie); the costuming, appropriate in period and style (Francois Barbeau); and the music and score interspersed with care (William Goldstein).
The actors—R. H. Thomson (Chaim) and Saul Rubinek (Hersh)— excel at their craft and turn the words into gems. The discourse between the two men seems at times as if they are lecturing, but these actors often turn the dialogue into poetry. Therein lies the question as to whether or not the film is for a wide audience or is simply an excellent educational film for the Jewish community. In reality, people of all faiths can probably debate about the answers to the questions brought forth as they pertain to their own religions.
My favorite part is toward the end when the two men dance in a most creative fashion. This shows the sensitivity of the film’s makers.
Then the two men leave the park and each other, apparently without talk of reuniting again. The film shows their eternal bond and their roots in Jewish tradition. Yet it also shows that they have forged different paths, and although bonded, life’s experiences have made them who they are, and they must continue to journey with their beliefs in tact. Ripe for discussion, I was hoping these men would delight in their reunion and vow to remain close.
A smorgasbord of ideas — one needs to see the film more than once to tune in, listen and digest. Having won local and international awards, it was praised after being released in Canada in 1991 and the U.S. in 1992. A play by Brandes and co-writer Rabbi Joseph Telushkin followed in 1999, with a run off-Broadway in 2008.
Eloquently written and produced by Brandes, Kim Todd, associate producer Telushkin, and executive producers Peter Sussman, Paul Bronfman and Lindsay Law, the film is far too accomplished to be merely an educational film. It is a marvelous film for those who have the interest and want to debate the topics brought forth.
DVD available at http://thequarrelmovie.com and on Amazon.
An American Playhouse Theatrical Films, Atlantis Releasing and Apple & Honey Film Corp. presentation in association with Comweb Productions Inc., The Ontario Film Development Corporation and Super Ecran. An Atlantis Films Limited and Apple & Honey Productions production. DVD: Fox Lorber and Winstar TV & Video.
Carol Jean Delmar is the author of Serenade: A Memoir of Music and Love from Vienna and Prague to Los Angeles, based on her parents’ lives. Her opera reviews may be seen on www.OperaTheaterInk.com. She has contributed opera reviews to the Beverly Hills Courier.