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Jewish-theme Films at Montreal Film Fest Include Italianfilm on Refuseniks, with Liv Ullman As Nudel

September 3, 1987
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At a press conference Sunday at the 11th World Film Festival here, Norwegian actress Liv Ullman, who plays a character named “Ida” loosely based on Soviet refusenik Ida Nudel in an Italian production, “Farewell to Moscow,” said that what she calls a “pivotal” scene was mysteriously cut from the film, which was not the one she was promised to be shown. The film’s producer, Enrico Roseo, pleaded innocent to the charge and dissociated himself from the clipped version.

In Italy, the film was shown in a fuller version. There, Ullman won a Donatelli Award for Best Actress for the role. Ullman said she told the producer she would not promote the film if it were not the complete version, and he reportedly promised her the Montreal version would not be cut. (However, observers pointed out that it is common to cut films for the North American market, and that Roseo’s disclaimer of responsibility might possibly have been a publicity stunt to attract media attention.)

At the Montreal festival, the film won an award from the Ecumenical Jury, which said of the film that “in spite of certain difficulties, (it) pleads eloquently in favor of individual rights through the recall of an actual case.”

The seven-year-long production of the film included many changes of scriptwriters and directors. Based on a story by Roseo and Marcello Andrei, the film’s final version boasted a screenplay by five writers: Niccolo Badalucco, Lucia Drudy Demby, Robert Balchus, Eric Bercovici and Mauro Bolognini, who was the last of about three directors.


The film includes a highly fictional portrayal of the well-known Soviet dissident, including a story of a marriage and a lover unknown to those familiar with Nudel, despite the fact that Nudel’s sister in Israel, Elana Fridman, reportedly went to Rome to consult on the film.

“This is a film I really care about.” Ullman told reporters. “Not only does it have all the emotions and range an actress dreams about, but it is telling a very important story. On one level, it is a moving case history of an actual refusenik; and on a greater level, it’s telling the story of repression in a totalitarian regime.”

In the scene cut, which appeared at the end in the original version, Ida expresses her feelings about how the Soviets restrict her physical movements, but “will never be able to control her thoughts,” said the Oscar-winning Ullman, a non-Jewish activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry and human rights who serves as assistant secretary general of the United Nations for the protection of children. Ullman said that for her, Nudel is the victim “of an ideology, and not of the Russian people.”

Ullman said that several scene sequences toward the film’s end appear abnormal, particularly when Ida returns from Siberia “looking for her husband and her lover,” The film says that Ida was divorced. While Ullman never met Nudel, she says she got her inspiration from Nudel’s courage in face of years of suffering despite her innocence. Nudel, who asked Soviet authorities for permission to emigrate to Israel to join her sister, was imprisoned and then exiled to Siberia. She lives in exile in the Moldavian city of Bendery, harassed and followed.

Roseo said he believes pro-Soviet opinion in Europe has caused the film to be boycotted and delayed in the last seven years of production. He also suggested that the Cannes Film Festival rejected an earlier version of the film on political grounds.

Roseo said, “The unfortunate Nudel has had bad luck, even in the movie about her life.”

“Farewell to Moscow” opens in New York in November. Whether the original version or the censored one will be shown, nobody can answer.

Some 20 Jewish-theme and Israeli films were presented at the film festival. The films include “Rock and Roll Rabbi” by Alexander Goldstein, a young Toronto filmmaker, and “Mending the World,” a touching story of the Holocaust by Harry Rasky, told in paintings and sculptures intermingled with the thoughts of philosophy professor Emil Fackenheim.

Among the films, outstanding are “Berlin-Tel Aviv” by Tzippy Prope, an Israeli-born director, telling the story of a young Berlin Jew who made his escape to Palestine during the war and did not find peace of mind until he forced a Jewish Kapo, guilty of selling Jewish lives to prolong his own, to commit suicide.

A big attraction was the Israeli-made movie “Late Summer Blues,” dealing with Israeli youths during the War of Attrition, waiting to be drafted into the army in the summer between their matriculation examinations and the army call-up. When the news of the first boy killed at the Suez Canal reaches them, they ask themselves whether “to die for one’s country” is the answer.

“The Testament,” a French film drawn from Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel’s novel of the same title, has packed full theaters during the festival. so has “Weddings in Galilee,” a Belgian production dealing with the conflict between Jewish military authorities and local Arabs during an Arab wedding. This is the first time in memory that so many films with Jewish themes have been shown at the World Film Festival, which ran from August 20 through September 1.

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