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Rating History

It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This documentary of the life of Theodore Herzl
is full of information and at the same time is
disappointingly dry and un-engaging. It is essentially
just a long article, perhaps like an encyclopedia entry,
that tells us the facts about Herzl, the founder of
Zionism. Co-written and directed by Richard Trank, it
gives the viewers the facts but fails to make the
character live and breathe for us. Narrated by Sir Ben
Kingsley and with Christoph Waltz reading Herzl's
writings, it tells us how the anti-Semitism in Europe,
particularly the Dreyfus Affair, inspired Herzl to will
the creation of a Jewish state. And as Herzl said, "If
you will it, it is no dream." Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or

Who was Theodor Herzl? It is a name we do not hear a lot today.
The story of his life is told in the documentary IT IS NO DREAM.
He was born Benjamin Ze'ev Herzl and was a journalist and
playwright born in Austro-Hungary. His family moved to Vienna
where he studied law. But he could not go far in the legal
profession because of strict limits on Jews in the law profession.
He turned to writing plays with mixed success. Though some of his
plays achieved acclaim his most steady income was as a journalist
for the Neue Freie Presse. But he was horrified when news of the
Dreyfus Affair in France was spread across Europe. On no evidence
a Jewish captain was made a scapegoat in a French political
scandal. He was sentenced to Devil's Island for life. Having
suffered from anti-Jewish bigotry, Herzl was much agitated from the
case and recognized that it was very possible that this hate could
be focused on the Jews of Europe, a prediction that came true. The
solution he decided upon was that Jews must leave Europe and have a
homeland of their own where they would not face anti-Jewish
bigotry. This film tells of his campaign to make the Jewish State
a reality. IT IS NO DREAM tells of Herzl's efforts including how
he met with many of the politically important of his day and of his
frustrations. Not the least of which was that his own wife
remained all her days negative on his concept of restoring a
homeland for the Jews at the site of the Biblical homeland.

Sadly, the filmmakers could not fully perform the difficult trick
of involving the viewer in the humanity of this stiff-seeming man
with an air of formality and a bush of moustache and beard hiding
his facial expression. We hear what he had to say, read by the
distinguished voice of Christoph Waltz, but are not caught up in
it. This film has little passion, even when showing photographs
the victims of pogroms. The approach seems to be more one of
putting the dry information in front of the viewer. Careful
attention was probably paid to what facts would be revealed but
little to how this information would be visualized. If Herzl was
speaking in a particular building the camera shows us the facade of
the building as it is today. Yes, it is something on the screen,
but it hardly does much for the narrative. The visuals needed more
thought and imagination. Perhaps there are some stories that are
better for the viewer to see dramatized than to hear them told.
Ben Kingsley, who is the main narrator, just seems to be
dispassionately reading an article appropriate for an encyclopedia.
As an example for how this sort of thing can be made engaging I can

written by RICHARD TRANK. It was also co-written by Rabbi Marvin
Hier the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The film is an
important one. The anti-Semitism that inspired and horrified Herzl
is rising again in Europe and elsewhere. We hear surprisingly
little of Theodor Herzl, a man who lived just forty-four years but
whose dream really transformed the Middle East. A biography is
needed, but it needs to be one that would make us understand the
man. It needed to go beyond just telling us who the man was. A
film is needed more vivid is needed. I rate IT IS NO DREAM: THE
LIFE OF THEODOR HERZL a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper