Set in Belgium in the early 70's, Left Luggage is the touching and emotional story of Chaja, a rebellious philosophy student stuggling to come of age. Her relationship with her parents, both concentration camp survivors,... more » is strained and she finds herself unable to accept her Jewish identity. A family friend finds her a job as a nanny for a Hassidic family with 5 children. Joining forces with Mrs. Kalman (Isabella Rossellini) and through her love for the youngest child who doesn't speak, Chaja learns to accept and respect a culture steeped in traditions, and finds the true value of life.« less
"Under the deft direction of Jeroen Krabbe, this is a stunning, moving film with wonderful, finely wrought performances by the entire cast. This film gem certainly deserves a wider audience. It is a coming of age film that also pulls back the curtain on Jewish self hate and anti-Semitism. It is also about the power of love to transform and transcend.
The film centers around a beautiful, free spirited, young woman in Antwerp, Belgium during the early nineteen seventies. A philosophy student and daughter of holocaust survivors (Maximilian Schell and Marianne Sagebrecht), Chaja (Laura Fraser) is in denial of her Jewish heritage and is totally secular in her approach to life. Her relationship with her parents, for whom she has little understanding, is strained. Struggling on her own, she is in need of a job. A friend of the family (Chaim Topol) hooks her up with a job lead, that of nanny for a Hassidic family, the Kalmans.
Desperate for help with her household, Mrs. Kalman (Isabella Rossellini), who is at first hesitant upon meeting the nubile, pants clad Chaja, hires her as nanny for her three boys. Chaja, when confronted with the lifestyle of these ultra orthodox Jews, filled with rules so alien to her own life, hesitates in accepting the position. Her heart is stolen, however, by adorable four year old red head, Simcha Kalman (Adam Monty), whose heartbreaking smile causes her to accept the position. It marks the beginning of changes for both the Kalmans and Chaja.
Through her developing affection for the shy Simcha and her relationship with Mrs. Kalman, she becomes accepting of her own Jewish identity and more understanding of her own parents idiosyncrasies, born as a result of being holocaust survivors. Chaja also learns how painful love can be, when tragedy touches her life in a way that she never envisioned. Trust me, when I say that the viewer will feel her pain, so poignant and profoundly moving is the pivotal, tragic event.
This is simply a beautiful film. Isabella Rosellini gives a an exquisite and sensitive performance as the ultra orthodox wife and mother, Mrs. Kalman, who is trying to achieve harmony in a household steeped in traditions at odds with the outside world. It is no wonder that she won the Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival for her portrayal. Laura Fraser is a sensational and delightful breath of fresh air, luminous as the gorgeous young woman, Chaja, who is struggling with her Jewish identity and her discovery that life is not always a bed of roses.
Chaim Topol is engaging as the kindly and wise family friend who quietly leads the way to Chaja's eventual embracement of her Jewish identity. Maximilian Schell and Marianne Sagebrecht are affecting as Chaja's parents and holocaust survivors, who live their lives under the torment of memories of long ago. Double kudos to Jeroen Krabbe for his wonderful direction of this film and for his fine portrayal of the uncompromising Mr. Kalman, whose personal tragedy broadens his understanding of lives not bound by the strictures of his own. Last, but not least, is the very adorable Adam Monty, whose portrayal of Simcha will break the viewer's heart.
This is a superlative, internationally acclaimed film that should draw all those interested in other cultures and those who simply love a great film experience. Bravo!"
A hauntingly beautiful, serious tragedy
Rabbi Yonassan Gershom | Minnesota, USA | 03/10/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film stayed with me long after the credits rolled. Other reviewers have already summarized the basic plot, so I'll focus on what I see as some of the underlying themes. The date is 1972, the place is Antwerp, Belgium. In other words, we are in Central Europe in the middle of the Vietnam era, which is also the post-Holocaust generation. On the surface, the film is about personal encounters between several different types of Jews. On a deeper level, it explores the various ways in which the Jewish people of that generation were attempting to cope with the cultural and emotional devastation of the Holocaust. Each character in the film is trying to recover their own "left luggage" -- the pieces of their pre-Holocaust past that will make them feel whole again. For Chaya's father, the luggage is literally two suitcases of family memorabilia that he buried during the war, and is now obsessed with finding again. But. as his wife says, the "left luggage" is not really the old suitcases -- he is looking for himself. Chaya's mother, in turn, is dealing (or not dealing) with her memories of the Holocaust through denial. She attempts to live a "normal" life of going to the hairdresser, baking cakes, watering her houseplants -- but it comes across as tense and strained. Neither of Chaya's parents understands why their daughter does not come to visit more often. On her part, Chaya feels totally disconnected from her parents' Jewishness. She is more concerned with the anti-war movement on campus. Mr. Kalman (the Hasidic father) also lost his family during the Holocaust. They were shot for refusing to spit on the Torah. Now, he holds to the religious traditions of Hasidism as his lifeline to the past. He expects his three sons to be Torah scholars who will carry on the family tradition, and is having difficulty accepting the fact that his four-year-old son, Simchah, is a slow learner who has not yet begun to talk . When Simchah finally does say something ("Quack! Quack!"), Mrs. Kalman is delighted, but Mr. Kalman can only say, "My son is saying quack-quack when he should be reciting the Four Questions at the seder?" The father does not know how to love a son who is not a Torah scholar.It is Chaya, the secularized nanny, who finally brings little Simcha out of his shell and gets him to start talking. Meanwhile, she has to come to grips with her own Jewish self-hate and the issue of antisemitism. Up to this point, being Jewish has seemed irrelevant to her life, and she has been "passing" among her gentile friends. Now she is confronted daily with an anti-semitic (if pathetic) elevator operator who goes out of his way to be nasty, Nazi graffiti on the park benches, and a "best friend" from college who turns out to be prejudiced against Jews and makes tactless remarks when she finds out that Chaya is Jewish. I won't tell you any more, because that would spoil the film. I will say is that that this is a serious dramatic tragedy, not a comedy or an action film. Come to it with an open, feeling heart, and you cannot help but be moved."
Wonderful film, but wish it had been longer
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 11/02/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film brings up a number of important issues, issues that one doesn't see often in more mainstream big-budget films. It's set in Belgium in the early Seventies, and Chaja, the main character, is caught up in the student movements and youth politics of the day. She's quite detached from the Jewish identity of her parents, who are Shoah survivors, and their friends. Due to the era in which this film takes place, most of the survivors are only middle-aged, still relatively young, instead of the aging people we picture them as today. However, after quitting her restaurant job in disgust at the beginning of the film, she, through her family friend Mr. Apfelschnitt, finds employment as a nanny for a Hassidic family, the Kalmans. It is through this job, which she initially also felt like walking away from, that she develops a reconnection to her faith and to her heritage. She is also persuaded to keep the job because of one of the Kalmans' children, four year old Simcha, who is autistic and very attached to her. Both because of her growing affection for the Kalmans and her reconnection to her roots, she is forced to re-examine a number of things in her life, such as the latent anti-Semitism of her roommate and supposed best friend Sofie and the openly anti-Semitic and even downright cruel and abusive landlord and elevator-operator in the Kalmans' apartment. One wishes that there were more films of this nature being made about the Hassidic community, giving an accurate and fair and balanced portrayal, instead of offensive and untruthful garbage like 'Kadosh' and 'A Price Above Rubies.' There's also the subplot of Chaja's father's obsessive decades-long search to find the luggage he buried the night before he had to leave his family behind and go into hiding from the Nazis; hence the film's title. A third, more minor, subplot concerns their neighbors the Goldmans; Mr. Goldman is a prolific philatelist, which really angers and frustrates his wife, who feels that he cares more about his stamps and pays more attention to them than to her and their marriage. I was also excited to learn that it was based on a novel, which I hope to find a copy of eventually.
However, as wonderful and touching as this film is, I just wish it had been somewhat longer. I felt it ended just when things were really getting involving and full of tension, everything really coming to a head. There could have easily been another 30 minutes or so of working out the events that were transpiring instead of more or less ending without a great deal of resolution to all of these great subplots that had so much more dramatic potential. The ending seems more depressing and unresolved than anything else, even though of course not all films are meant to have happy sunshiny endings or to make the viewer feel good. And I know that Chaja's character is meant to be a thoroughly modern woman of the Seventies, and someone who has no real love for or interest in her religion, but I thought it was a bit unrealistic how at first she was going over to the Kalmans' and taking their kids out to the park dressed in miniskirts and jeans. Surely Mr. Apfelschnitt (who is religious) would have told her that those just aren't acceptable outfits when in the company of Hassidic people; whether or not one dresses like that in one's own world shouldn't preclude having respect for the conventions of modesty of one's hosts. She was a guest in their house, and a guest on shaky ground at best at first, not the other way around! It also seems a bit unrealistic how Sofie has no idea, until Chaja informs her of this fact during the skinny-dipping scene pretty far into the film, that her best friend is Jewish. How many Belgian women their age would have had such an overtly Hebrew name like that in the Seventies, or even in any era, unless they were Jewish? And wouldn't she have known from Chaja telling her about her family life anyway? (As for the skinny-dipping scene itself, yes we see full frontal nudity in both women, but it only lasts for a second or so, and besides, there's absolutely nothing sexual or pornographic about it. Not all nudity is automatically adult in context or inappropriate for children, unless one is teaching children that all nudity is inherently shameful and dirty, and only exists in a sexual context, which I would consider far more inappropriate than a very brief and innocent scene of full frontal nudity.)
Overall, this is a very thought-provoking film, one that doesn't offer any easy answers about complex issues, but rather leaves it up to the different characters to work out their own answers and ideas. All of these characters have their own "left luggage," and all come to different conclusions as to how to resolve it. Though it does have obviously strong Jewish content, and therefore some references or terms which might not be fully understood by outsiders to the faith, it's also a film that's easily-accessible to people of all religions."
"I am a donut"
Joseph Oppenheim | San Diego, CA USA | 02/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Yes, for me, that was the key line in the film when Maximillian Shell referred to when JFK said those historic words "Ich bin ein Berliner," he was actually saying, "I am a donut" in German. People excused JFK's malaprop rather than mock him, because they knew what was in his heart.
One needs to look deeper into people, before making quick judgments.
This film captures that, using charming Chaya's (Laura Fraser) coming of age journey, as a young Jewish woman living a life with little real meaning or direction, until she happens upon a deeper understanding of who she is, through finding deeper meanings in others. The film shows how people may try to run from who they really are, but sooner or later they must confront it, if they are to mature.
The transformation of Chaya begins when accepting a job as a nanny to a Chassidic family.
Happiness, tragedy, and imperfect people all serve to find that deeper understanding for Chaya. It are dramatic words from the wonderful Isabella Rossellini, as the Chassidic mom, to Chaya, as a "daughter of Israel," which signals the completion of the transformation.
Yes, the film's title, and Chaya's dad's (Maximillian Shell) search for what was left in the past, has symbolic meaning. It, the musical score, and every character in "Left Luggage" contributes, in this heart wrenching mosaic of a film. It left me interested in every character in the film, even the concierge. Though all actors were marvelous, the film just wouldn't have worked, if Laura Fraser hadn't pulled off her role so well."
Captivating and Thoughtful, A must must see
caspcnyc | Jericho, NY United States | 07/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I waited a very long time for Left Luggage to come out on VHS and DVD as I had missed it in my local area cinema arts theaters. Was it worth the wait? You bet! Rarely does a movie grab your attention from the start and pull you into it's beauty and morality as this movie has. It is especially intriguing for persons who have any ties to Holocaust rememberances (or desperate means of forgetting) and to the Jews who remained in Europe after the war. The short moral of this movie is about a young girl in Antwerp, Belgium during the 1970's who has no knowledge or regard for her families tragic background. The big picture though unfolds when she spends time with a four year old boy and his ultra orthodox family who show her what she is, who she is, and ultimately the importance of where she came from. Not to be missed!"