Chuppa: The Wedding Canopy

(Docu)

At once a formidable tale of survival, a touching love story and an enduring family saga Chuppa (The Wedding Canopy) is an original documentary about the wedding of a Jewish couple half a century after they had met and got engaged. Celebrating one family's struggle to move beyond the pain of the Holocaust, this truly uplifting docu deserves a theatrical release prior to showings in Jewish film festivals, Public TV, and other venues.

Helma and Benno Schneider met and fell in love as teenagers in Riga's ghetto, in l942. Beno was a streetsmart, working-class Latvian Jew; Helma, a beautiful, middle-class teenager, deported from her native Cologne, Germany.

Despite humiliating traumas and denigrating experiences that would break the spirits of most people, Helma and Benno managed to sustain a relationship that proved nurturing and fulfilling. When their concentration camp was dissolved, the two lived for a year on the run in the Russian forests. By then, they each had lost their entire family, which meant that there were no people to witness a traditionally Jewish marriage.

Docu effectively shows the burden of Holocaust survivors' offsprings to come to terms with their parents' history so hat they can lead “healthier” lives with their own families. Sascha, the eldest son (and co-director), recalls how he vowed, and always knew, that one day he would give his parents the proper wedding ceremony they never had. “The chuppa,” says the middle-aged Sascha, “is my gift and my separation, it's a step in my becoming an adult.”

The directors' approach is to show the effects of a single, albeit dramatic and emotional event–the chuppa–on each member of the three-generational family. As a culmination of dreams and promises, the chuppa also had impact on the interaction of parents and children and on Sascha's marriage to his wife, co-director and producer Laurie Zemelman Schneider.

The filmmakers and their parents, now in their 70s, are extremely candid in reconstructing their past. There is an honest discussion, for example, of the tension that Sascha's decision to go to Germany (for a TV series) created within the family. Even though once in a while the elders break out crying (and switch to Yiddish) while recalling Hitler, their matter-of-fact philosophy of life, which is full of humor and wit, is most impressive.

As a testament to the indefatigable human spirit and to the need to come to terms with one's past–no matter how painful it is–Chuppa is one of a kind.

A GEO Film production. Produced by Laurie Zemelman Schneider. Executive producers, Sascha Schneider, John Lionel Bandmann.
Co-producer, Hanania Baer. Directed by Laurie Zemelman and Sascha Schneider. Camera (color), Baer; editor, Gesa Marten; associate producer, Paul Lawrence. Reviewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Santa Barbara, March 5, 1994. Running time: 80 min.