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Hester Street
Hester Street
Actors: Steven Keats, Carol Kane, Mel Howard, Anna Berger, Ed Crowley
Director: Joan Micklin Silver
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
PG     2004     1hr 30min

An Eastern European Jewish woman comes to turn-of-the-century Lower East Side in New York to join her husband and is reluctant to shed her ethnic heritage and embrace American ways as her husband has. — Genre: Feature Film-...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Steven Keats, Carol Kane, Mel Howard, Anna Berger, Ed Crowley
Director: Joan Micklin Silver
Creators: Kenneth Van Sickle, Joan Micklin Silver, Katherine Wenning, David Appleton, Raphael D. Silver, Abraham Cahan
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Studio: Homevision
Format: DVD - Black and White,Widescreen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 12/21/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 30min
Screens: Black and White,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 14
MPAA Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English, Yiddish
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Movie Reviews

A Wonderful Story of Jewish Immigrant Life
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 02/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a wonderful look at Jewish immigrant life in the 1880's in New York's Lower East Side. Carol Kane is terrific as Gitl, who comes over with her young son from a Russian shtetl to join her husband, Jake (Steven Keats) who immigrated five years earlier. He's become "Americanized" and she clings to the old ways. Jake has a job, has cut his hair and shaves, likes to dance and play around with the girls. When he came over to get established in the new world, his wife and baby stayed with his father. Now his father has died and Jake has done the right thing. He's borrowed some money for a small furnished flat and sent for his wife and son. Gitl, however, is "religious." She speaks only Yiddish. Because married women do not show their hair, she always wears wigs or scarves. Going to parties and dancing is something she feels so uncomfortable with she cannot take part. Jake, of course, has had girl friends and wants the freedom of the life he discovered when he came over. He begins seeing again one of them, Mamie (Dorrie Kavanaugh), who teaches dancing. And to help make ends meet, he takes in a boarder, a shy scholar named Mr. Bernstein (Mel Howard). You can see where this is going.

Hester Street is a very humane, warm movie. There are no dramatic climaxes or screaming arguments. Carol Kane plays Gitl as a shy, gentle young woman who wants to please her husband but feels deeply about the religious customs she grew up with. She's marvelous, with her pale, delicate face and those big, dark eyes. And Jake is no one-dimensional philanderer. He truly is puzzled over his wife's inability to embrace the freedoms and excitement of their new life. While he stays pretty much the same, Gitl slowly changes, becoming stronger and more confident. The movie closes with Jake paying Gitle for a divorce so that he can marry Mamie and they'll start a dance studio. And Gitl and Mr. Bernstein will marry and they'll open a small shop. Selling what? They're not sure, but Gitl will sell so that her Mr. Bernstein can study.

The movie evolks with great warmth the life of Hester Street, where so much of people's lives were lived on the sidewalks and curbs. One long sequence, with only background music and street sounds, has Jake and his young son, Yossele, whom Jake has renamed Joey, leaving their apartment and walking hand in hand up Hester Street. The street is filled with people and shops, horse carts, shopping stalls. Kids are playing, couples walking around, men sitting on steps and talking. Everything is being sold, chickens, shoes, potatoes, dresses, apples, lotions, sweets, you name it. Romanticised? Undoubtedly. Highly effective? It sure was.

The movie was shot in black and white, which suits the period and the story. The DVD image is first rate and there are interesting interviews with Joan Micklin Silver, her husband, Raphael Silver, Carol Kane and Doris Roberts, who played a secondary role."
Warm, touching and thoroughly delightful
strega2 | USA | 09/27/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This film tells the story of a young Russian Jewish immigrant woman, excellently played by Carol Kane, who arrives in New York's crowded Lower East Side slums at the turn of the century. She has come to join her husband, whose stay in America has resulted in a new love interest and disenchantment with his old-world wife's traditional ways. But they have a boarder in their tiny apartment--a traditional Jewish man whose dedication to Talmudic study draws the wife's interest as her marriage crumbles. The film vividly portrays the sense of the teeming slums and tenements of the time, the problems of the dislocated immigrants struggling to preserve their culture while adapting to a new one. It is both an entertaining story of personal triumph--Carol Kane is a winning heroine--and an interesting historical period. If you are descended from immigrants from any country, you owe it to yourself to see this. END"
An essential movie
Barry Wolborsky | North Bergen, NJ USA | 01/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Based on the short story Yekl by Forward Editor Abraham Cahan, Hester Street perfectly captures the atmosphere, language, accents, lifestyle and traditions of the Eastern European Immigrants who settled on New York's Lower East Side in the late 19th century. It's a movie that's oftentimes funny as it is sad and moving. In short, it's a history lesson that doesn't feel like one and anyone with a passing interest in either Jewish-American life, independent films or just a great movie would enjoy Hester Street.

As for the extras on the DVD, there are recent interviews with Carol Kane and Doris Roberts about their experiences making the film and what it meant to them as Jewish Americans decended from the world and people who they represent on screen. It also contains fascinating interviews with the film's Director and Producer and the unique challenges they faced as a female director attempting to sell, distrubute and market a small, unusual independent film in the 1970's. Lastly, an excerpt from Heritage - Civilization and the Jews, focusing on the Lower East Side is included. It's worth watching for a number of reasons, but most importantly to put the experiences of the characters in Hester Street into context with the world they lived in, as well as to see some fascinating archival footage of the late 19th and early 20th century New York.

I actually rented this movie on Netflix, but I loved it so much and can watch scenes from it over and over again, so I will most likely buy it from at some point in the future. I suggest you do the same."
A simple plot, no, but satisfying.
R. A Rubin | Eastern, PA United States | 05/11/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)

"It's pretty tough to build a realistic set of the Lower East Side, New York City, 1896. The Godfather films did the best they could. When directors shoot the distant past of our great grandfathers, they usually shoot in tempera hue antiquing the scenes, so we feel we are looking through a time machine. In the case of Joan Micklin Silver's, Hester Street, she shoots with black and white stock. All I'm saying, audiences won't believe it is the past without a newsreel or spooky tempera projection.

The documentary feel to Hester Street, the authentic clothing and dialect, the old Russian to English dialect fills the viewer, especially Jewish filmgoers with a weird sense of nostalgia since no one today, in 2006 is alive to tell the immigrant story. The poverty, crowded conditions, popular prejudices, and alienation were a fact of life. It is amusing that these immigrants assimilated, learning English, building jobs, and business within two generations; all hardship forgotten consciously, but I would assert, not unconsciously.

Carol Kane, Gitl, is a wonderful young country wife flabbergasted by the modern, secular ways of America. Her husband, actor, Steven Keats has left the greenhorn, religious Jew nonsense behind as he takes on a new girlfriend, a hottie for her day. His wife arrives with child unexpectedly thwarting his plans. Keats rejects her old world ways. Waiting in the wings is a boarder, a religious man that admires Gitl. A simple plot, no, but satisfying.