Only a surrealist would cast Isabella Rossellini as an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman. But in Left Luggage, Dutch actor-director Jeroen Krabbé’s debut feature, the former Lancôme model turns in a credible performance as Mrs. Kalman, a Hasidic mother of five children. In Antwerp during the ’70s, Chaja (Laura Fraser), a philosophy student and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, takes a job as the Kalmans’ nanny. Though flummoxed by Orthodox regulations, she’s drawn to four-year-old Simcha (Adam Monty), a mute cherub in a yarmulke and sidecurls.
Chaja’s mother (Marianne Sagebrecht) seems drugged or possessed—spouting a steady stream of complaints and advice (“Tight jeans will give you cancer”), maniacally cutting cakes with her tattooed wrist in close-up. Chaja’s father spends his days trying to locate the spot where, during the war, he buried suitcases filled with family photographs and silver; Maximilian Schell brings to the role a whiff of classic Hollywood. Locked in their memories, these two are almost as uncommunicative as Simcha, but sometimes they seem to belong to different movies.
Krabbé himself plays Mr. Kalman, who remains for the most part a wooden patriarch. As a director, Krabbé alternates exaggeration with sentiment, but the main characters are relatively complex, and its surprise ending is genuinely affecting. Most films about Hasidic life are filled with caricatures of a pitilessly hidebound people. This more nuanced view is appreciated.
Nuance is not a strong point of Double Parked, Stephen Kinsella’s feature about a down-and-out single mother in Jersey City. Callie Thorne plays Rita Ronaldi, who walks out on her abusive, alcoholic husband. A decade later, recently fired, she learns that her ex has moved back to town. Landing a job as a meter maid cheers her, but then her son, Matt (Rufus Read), now a nerdy adolescent suffering from cystic fibrosis, befriends Brett (Noah Fleiss), the class delinquent. They don’t know it, but they’re half brothers. Matt gives Brett his homework; in return, Brett teaches him to spit and steal from parking meters. Luckily, a cute science teacher gets involved and becomes all flustered when he meets Rita. Thorne’s perennial feistiness becomes wearisome; the kids do their best with lines like “The teacher is playing hide-the-salami with your mom.” Child abuse, domestic violence, and the struggles of single mothers deserve better treatment than this.