In 1923 in Vienna Sidney Goldin filmed the Yiddish classicEast and West starring Molly Picon, the American-Yiddish star of Yiddish cinema and Jacob Karlich, her husband in real life. The film tells the story of Morris Brown, an American manufacturer born in Poland, who returns to his hometown for a family wedding with his very American daughter Mollie (Molly Picon.) The bride, a daughter of his traditional brother, and Mollie, whose exuberant antics fill the film, could not be more different. But Mollie unexpectedly meets her match, an engaging young yeshiva scholar, who forsakes tradition and joins the secular world to win her heart.
85 years after Goldin’s film the Sala-Manca Group, a collective of Israeli-Argentinean artists, came to Vienna to shoot West und Ost – a film-translation. The work makes references to the idea of cultural and language translation between the Yiddish, English and German texts that also appear in the American and Austrian versions of Goldin’s film. It tells the story of Yaakov K., an Orthodox Jewish guy who is also a street graffiti writer. He is the grandson of the acclaimed writer Yaakov Ben-Ali (the main character of East and West), who was formerly orthodox before becoming secular. Yaakov K. comes to Vienna, in order to get a share of the Shilumim (restitution.) Because of the subversive tone of his graffiti, the Israeli intelligence service Mosad sends a female agent called Moly F. to Vienna to spy on him and bring him back to Israel for investigation. Dressed as a young orthodox man (a quotation of Mollie’s male characteristic in East and West), Moly F. tries to get closer to Yaakov. “Unexpectedly”, they fall in love. Their feelings lead them to re-think their duties to their religion and to the state.
East and West is a funny and clear manifesto for the changing values, manners, and beliefs of traditional East European Jewish life. West und Ost – a film-translation is, however, not just an homage to Goldin’s film and how it deals with a specific and amazing moment in the history of European Jewry, but also a translation of the subversiveness of the film to contemporary terms and topics.
Performed at Tate Modern London in the frame of No Soul for Sale; PFA (Pacific Film Archives, Berkeley); DOX (Prague); Jerusalem Film Festival; CCA – Tel Aviv