Tickling Leo

If there’s one thing that movies have taught me, one secret mystery that has been revealed to me, over and over through celluloid magic, it’s this:

Genocide is bad.

Time-and-again, Hollywood’s superior moral compass steers away from life’s most treacherous pitfalls. Just the other day, I was thinking of wiping out the Ainu but I remembered some important (if sometimes confusing) lessons recent movies had taught me.

“But Blake!” you cry, “What about Reds and Che and all those movies celebrating revolution that resulted in, or even immediately involved mass murder!”

“Well, that’s democide,” I reply smugly. “The jury’s still out on democide. No consensus there.”

“But genocide was also a big part of the Soviet regime, too!”

“Shut up,” I explain.

I digress. And exaggerate. Because today’s movie, Tickling Leo, is really a low-budget effort without much of Hollywood about it. It’s the story of Zak Pikler, who goes with his girlfriend Delphina to visit his estranged father upon hearing that he’s not quite right. Upon arriving, he finds out that his father is not well. In fact, he’s losing his mind.

Sure, we’ve seen it before. A lot. But have we seen it with WWII-surviving Jews? (Actually, I sort of think we have.)

Anyway, while Zak is estranged from his father Warren, Warren is, in turn estranged from his father Emil (Eli Wallach at 94, folks). As it turns out, Emil had to make a hard choice during WWII that Warren never understood, and Warren carried this anger through by renouncing his faith and not raising his son in the church—and further excoriating his non-Jewish wife when she tries to expose him to a little of it.

Delphina obviously has a passing interest in resolving this conflict, though there’s not a whole lot she can do, other than insisting Zak act like a civil human being.

I asked the boy afterward what he thought and he said:

“It was a very good example of its genre.”
“What did you think its genre was?”
“Depressing.”

But, in fact, it’s not a depressing movie, which is quite a feat, given the subject matter. Movies like this—I mean both Alzheimer’s movies and Holocaust movies—can tend to wallow. (Helloooo, The Notebook!)

It’s traditional film-making for the most part. Not a lot of shaky-cam. A few scenes are too darkly lit for what appears to budgetary reasons rather than artistic ones. But overall, the solid acting and writing makes for something that doesn’t feel uncomfortably low budget.

And it manages to weave a thread of optimism in it, which I tend to favor.

Still, it’s a niche.

Intriguingly enough, our next movie would also be steeped in Jewish-themed.

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