Jewish Culture: Rabbi Jacob Wolkenbruch

Since streaming services are swarming everywhere (Apple TV+ is coming this Friday), one of the new jobs of the usher is to find the rare pearls that often hide under tons of crap.

Most recently, during a pre-Brexit trip to London, the usher enjoyed one of the final performances of the musical Fiddler on the Roof/Un Violin sur le Toit on the stage of the Playhouse Theatre.

This memorable production by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Jerome Robbins, does wonderful justice to a very beautiful Jewish story that also had a filmed version in natural settings by Norman Jewison, a film that is among Marie-Amandine’s bedside works.

Returning from London, where the Brexit is still waiting, the usher had a crazy desire to see this other “Jewish story” that is Les aventures de Rabbi Jacob, a cult comedy with a freewheeling Louis de Funès, directed by Gérard Oury in 1973 and seen – at the time – by more than 7 million French people.

As chance often does things very well, Rabbi Jacob recently celebrated his 45th birthday and – lechaim! – a new restored version of the film has just been released on BluRay 4K UHD. It’s been a long time since Marie-Amandine has had either a Gérard Oury or a Louis de Funès – so she’s been looking forward to it. Rabbi Jacob, this is the film of all excesses... and all courage.
In fact, given the sickly high level of what is now called “political correctness”, a film like this is hard to imagine nowadays.

To sum up: A French industrialist (De Funès), racist, misogynist and xenophobic as it is no longer allowed, is forced to disguise himself as a rabbi and team up with an Arab politician, also disguised as a rabbi, to escape from Arab terrorists who want to kill them, to avoid a political change in the Arab politician’s country.
And the French cops, who are idiots, get involved in the story.

One of the film’s key sequences (“Rabbi Jacob, il va danser”) takes place on Rue des Rosiers in the Marais, the Jewish quarter of Paris. These essential scenes were filmed in a Maghreb neighbourhood in Saint-Denis, where a bunch of Maghreb extras were partying, singing and dancing, dressed in… Jewish clothing.

Just for this wonderful idea of cohabitation – unthinkable in 2019 – Rabbi Jacob’s adventures are worth (re)discovering.

And then, you still have to admit that some of the gags are so funny that even a sophisticated devilish usher is still cracking her mouth 45 years later.

Gérard Oury and Louis de Funès were masters of primary humour, which made them champions of the French box office for many years.  We would like to thank them here.

Which brings us to streaming, Netflix and random which has done it right again. While browsing through the American giant’s endless lists of films and series, the usher’s sights stopped on the poster of a Swiss-German comedy called Wolkenbruch (Title: Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey into the Arms of a Shiksa), directed by Michael Steiner and based on the hilarious novel Wolkenbruchs wunderliche Reise in die Arme einer Schickse by Thomas Meyer, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

The story is that of Mordechai Wolkenbruch, known as Motti, a young Orthodox Jew from Zurich, whose mame (no longer a Jewish mother, you die, it is played by a dynamically hysterical lady named Inge Maux) is determined to marry him by arranging for him to meet young, very Jewish women.
But Motti, naive and a virgin at will, doesn’t hear it with this ear. When he meets and falls in love with a young shiksa
girl (therefore non-Jewish), a world collapses for his mame…

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