Romeo and Juliet in the Shtetl


The story of Romeo and Juliet has been adapted and updated to fit all sorts of contexts, from gang wars (in West Side Story) to online miscommunication (in an adaptation called Such Tweet Sorrow).

Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish, a recent film update of the play, isn’t a retelling so much as it is a telling about the retelling.

Ava, a middle-aged grad student, receives a grant to produce a version of Romeo & Juliet in Yiddish. She’s set up with a trio of “black-hat slackers,” dropouts from the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect of Hasidim, who pore over the text–translating it, but also dissecting its meaning. Intercut into the film are scenes from Ava’s actual play Romeo and Juliet, acted out by Hasidim in Yiddish and superimposed into the different factions of the ultra-Orthodox world.

The film was produced, filmed, and acted largely by Hasidim and ex-Hasidim–several of whom are active in Chulent, a social group for Hasidic rebels. The film’s structure is choppy in places, and makes a few illogical plot leaps. But these missteps are often endearing, and the film’s look into the underbelly of Hasidic fringe culture is fascinating and unique.

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