by Marc Kandel
Short, provocative, clever, "The Tribe" is Jewish history and ideology(ies) mapped out through montage and voiceover, smartly centered around fun visuals of the most unlikely of Jewish heroines… Barbie. ...Barbie?Yep. Barbie. Blatantly Aryan, impossibly, freakishly figured (though lets give Keira Knightley a hearty hand for trying!), not altogether competent at math, and sporting that goysche boyfriend, Ken (whom I’ve always thought was a bit of a faegella anyhow). Well, turns out Barbie is indeed a member of… The Tribe.
"Funny, Barbie doesn't look Druidish..."
Barbie’s little known surname is actually, Barbie Handel, brainchild of Ruth Handel a German/American Jew. So what makes this fact relevant, and how is this a turnkey into the intricacies and vagaries of Jewish American culture?
Well, that’s not easily answered, because for a short film, a truly considerable amount of ground is covered in history, belief, politics, culture, sects, the list goes on, yet director, producer and co-writer Tiffany Shlain juggles the many ideas deftly and manages to be succinct, witty and intelligent, providing insight for folks who really have not heretofore grasped the concept of Judaism, and for folks in the tribe themselves like me, who thoroughly enjoyed this bit of constructive deconstruction and commentary on the state of Jews in the world today, both good and bad.
This lightning round of Judaic exploration is bolstered by actor Peter Coyote’s voiceover narrative, which is at once dry, yet almost mischievous- he’s having a good time and so are we.
Taking the critic hat off for a sec, I found a great sense of pride in this piece, which (taking the yarmulke off, putting the critic hat back on) deftly navigates the minefield between what could easily explode into veiled religious education and glorified propaganda. I really had to consider that for a bit, but in the end I cannot find any manipulative agenda in this work of introspection and love.
And let's face it. Judaism is rarely considered one of the "sexy" religions. The black hats, gefilte fish, the cccccch sounds, holding up the ordering at the restaurant while you make sure the vodka sauce doesn't have ham in it... Well, quite frankly, this film is really about injecting some pride, excitement, and some modern wonder into the mix by providing meaning to tradition and fervently embracing the very things that set Jews apart; its a celebration.The Tribe is at all times, sincere yet playful, educational yet joyous, and a helluva lot of good natured fun, easily accessible to any viewer regardless of beliefs. Highly recommended.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14524&reviewer=358
originally posted: 05/06/06 14:03:22