Hava Nagila: The Movie (2013)
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Critic Reviews for Hava Nagila: The Movie
Thankfully there are enough eloquent talking heads to keep this watchable.
A slight, but very satisfying, and at times, surprisingly moving, documentary about the inescapable Jewish anthem and wedding and bar mitzvah music staple.
An entertaining examination of the "kitschy and profound" song's cultural and historical origins.
The attitude is so much fun and the story so involving that a little naches is forgivable.
Audience Reviews for Hava Nagila: The Movie
Although it is a bit too long, Hava Nagila: The Movie is entertaining, informative and serves as a healthy injection of chicken soup for gastronomic Jews around the world. The historical background concerning the song's origin as a niggun and the feud between the "composers" who made it popular is fascinating. Cameos by my colleague Rabbi Larry Kushner and insight from Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi were insightful. The observations of Harry Belafonte were also outstanding. This is a thoroughly enjoyable film, well worth your time. Mazel tov!
Seems a bit self-conscious and precious initially, but it works. The amused, slightly sarcastic tone complements the story of the inescapable song well in tracking the origins and inexorable spread of the quintessential Jewish party tune. It's a lightweight piece of work, with questions left unexplored, but it's pleasant diversion.
In case the not-so-subtle title isn't enough to tip you off, Hava Nagila: The Movie is...well, a movie about the ubiquitous Jewish anthem. Although labeling it merely a Jewish song would be doing it an injustice, as the peppy, extremely catchy little tune has been known to liven up parties of Jews and gentiles alike. It's the consummate happy tune that channels an "ancient Jewy force" to get people out of their chairs and clapping on the dance floor, but is it worth basing an entire film around? An obvious labor of love for director Roberta Grossman, the film enthusiastically delves into the song's vast history to discover how it became such an integral part of Jewish culture. Narrated by actress Rusty Schwimmer (North Country, The Perfect Storm), the film is basically one long history lesson, tracking the song's evolution over the last couple of centuries. Its origins begin nearly two hundred years ago in the Ukraine where families still war over who actually authored it. Over time the song came to mean many different things as it moved around the world and became enveloped in the culture of different people. Doubtful anyone expected it would turn up in America co-opted into our television shows and covered by musicians of literally every genre. Harry Belafonte, who ran it into the ground during his lengthy career, is probably the biggest name to turn up and sing its praises. While the film maintains a light, bouncy attitude, it also shows that the song had special significance during the most trying times in Jewish history, namely during the Holocaust. Strangely, the snarky, ironic tone doesn't really change even then. Informative and often quite a joy to watch, there's the sense that Grossman is stretching to meet the 73-minute runtime. So we get lots of added fluff, mostly in the form of interviews with people who have nothing of importance to add to the discussion. There is one exception and that's the inclusion of the Klezmatics, a klezmer band who would rather do anything than play Hava Nagila. A documentary on them would be a hoot. Like the song itself, Hava Nagila: The Movie may only appeal to those who are in the right mood for it. For them, the film will be a cheery, nostalgic journey. For everyone else, all they'll get out of it is a really irritating earworm for a few days.
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