Zelimo (2001)

Zelimo DVD coverZelimo is a coming of age film that tells the story of a young Jewish farm boy who embarks on a journey from Russia to America in search of a better life.  The film, through flashbacks, looks at the boy’s haunted past as he seeks a new life in a new world.

The story begins to develop in Russia, where Zelimo lives with his parents and his younger brother. Even if Stalin was dead, his legacy lived on in Russia. People were disappearing and afraid that something bad might happen to their families, especially keeping in mind that being Jews they were looked down upon by even the common people.

The film captures its viewers with its dark first scenes, accompanied by tension building music. The lead character doesn’t look older than 12, he has black paint on his face and is preparing to do something dangerous, illegal or both. A few flashback scenes indicate that whatever is about to happen is going to reflect something that has happened in the past – even if the events shown during this flashback leave only a vague idea of the thoughts that pass through Zelimo’s mind.

The second important moment in the film is the crossing of the Russian border – which has never been an easy thing to do. Night trains, cold, tension, passport checks and then another flashback all lead us to the second Zelimo’s family arrives on US soil.  Those of you who have been paying attention will note that only Zelimo and his mother descend to the station platform and nothing is known about the other passengers who were traveling on that same night train.

While it is interesting that the director decided to use filtering technologies, with emphasis on the blue coloring which makes the film artier – on the down side that technique may be confusing for many viewers. I would have been happier if the director just stuck to telling the story and not overdoing the visuals.

I found the soundtrack a bit odd for the film, as it mostly included modern US pop and rock music which seemed out of place — being completely unrelated to the subject matter.   On a side note, even if the film was a US production, it felt weird to listen to everyone speaking fluent English. The main characters were Jews and they had spent quite some time in Russia. Yet, there were only a few phrases used in languages other than English – which made the film a bit unreal, as one could see that the reality of the time was not being projected accurately. I have noted similar issues in another coming of age film titled I am David  – where instead of setting subtitles to the foreign speech, all of a sudden everyone started speaking in English.

Generally speaking, I don’t think the adult actors were convincing enough and overall failed to portray their emotions, which must have been quite intense, keeping in mind what they had to go through.Once in the US, Zelimo is split from his mother as they are sent to male and female camps for Jewish immigrants. Zelimo is has trouble adjusting, as he hadn’t met a lot of people on the Russian farm where he grew up.  He even noted that some people treated him differently than the rest because he was a Jew. And to the people from his own community, he is considered an outsider as he was not raised religiously and is not too willing to accept all the religious restrictions that are imposed on him.

2starsOverall, Zelimo is a good movie that focuses on the struggle of a boy to fit in – in a place, with new people in another country. The film has some educational value as it shows where violence – both physical and mental — may lead.In the end, I  hesitate to recommend this film highly, as it personally failed to involve me emotionally and I felt it too cliched at times. It must have been a real challenge for the film’s director to cover a theme that has been done before, with a new twist.  While he succeeds to an extent,  I felt that Aleks Rosenberg generally failed in that respect.

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This review would not have been possible without the valuable support of SCVMC.net who provided the DVD for it.

2 COMMENTS

  1. There is something about Zelimo that I love… and it took a while to see it. The author / filmmaker is telling a very personal story. Despite the films shortcomings and lack of slick professional actors there is a lot of heart. Great review – good film. Find it and watch it!

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