On Sunday night, when the curtains opened and the first actors appeared on screen, several people in the crowd cheered. Not only were a large number of cast members present, but apparently, they had also brought their fans. Later, when the screen turned black and the credits began to roll, everyone cheered – and they had every reason to do so!
Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish is the story of a middle-aged ER nurse – and bitterly lapsed observant Jew – undertaking a Yiddish translation of Shakespeare’s great classic. Meanwhile, her houseguest, also a Hasidic dropout, is “leaking” Kabbalistic magic, and enchants her studio apartment. In what might be the first Yiddish “mumblecore” film, director Eve Annenberg creates a parallel universe (Williamsburg, Brooklyn), where Romeo and Juliet stem from divergent streams of ultra-orthodox Judaism and speak their lines in street-smart Yiddish.
The compelling love story is beautifully adapted and fully entertaining, while raising questions about love, conflict and ultra-orthodox Judaism. During the Q&A one cast member described how after a screening in London, ultra-orthodox viewers told him they were touched by the film and could relate to it very well.
The cast consists entirely of native Yiddish-speakers whose families are (partly) aware of their roles in the film. As one cast member explained with a sly smile: “The ones that are okay with it know – the others don’t.”
Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer