Just about every dilemma of modern Jewish identity gets an airing in this densely packed tale of a clan of more or less secularized Belgian Jews thrown into spiritual crisis by the death of the matriarch who has held all doubts and internecine warfare in check. To bury or cremate? To circumcise or leave well enough alone? To marry in or out—and to an Arab, no less? Who is a Jew anyway, and what’s a mensch? It’s a tribute to writer-director Sam Garbarski’s skill that the storytelling never feels schematic or abstract: Think Arnaud Desplechin, plus Judaism. Every wrangle over Jewish practice or ritual segues plausibly, if hardly smoothly, into the existential realm, refracted through the daily fabric of human folly. Grinding no axes for or against religion, Garbarski, who made the more openly provocative 2007 film Irina Palm, brings a spirit of expansive clemency to even the most irascible of his family feuders. The Rashevski Tango begins and ends with a burial, but the movie teems with cranky life, then heals all rifts with a dance that sets a seal of comically erotic approval on that undying genre, the domestic melodrama.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 8, 2009