Ivan and Abraham (1994): Yoalnde Zauberman’s Feature Debut, Winner at Cannes Film Fest

Ivan and Abraham, the artistically acclaimed feature debut from director Yoalnde Zauberman, garnered her the Camera d’Or, given for best first film at the Cannes Film Festival.

The story depicts a ragtag band of refugee youths–representing Jews, Christians, Communists, and the lovelorn—as they escapes the turbulence of pre-WWII Poland by running away to the countryside.

While there are many characters, the narrative focus is on the friendship between two boys, Ivan (Sacha Iakovlev) and Abraham (Roma Aleksandrovitch).

Nachman (Rolan Bykov), Abraham’s grandfather, is the estate manager for a world-weary Prince (Oleg Iankovski) who rules presides the region until he runs out of money.  His defection is just one major event in the constantly changing political context, which, among other effects, evokes anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, Rachel (Maria Lipkina), Abraham’s sister, is in love with Aaron (Vladimir Machkov), a member of the illegal Communist party. In contrast, Ivan (Sacha Iakovlev) is a Polish Christian who lives with Abraham’s family as an apprentice.

Since the characters are children or adolescents, the movie also unfolds as a haunting coming-of-age saga in turbulent historical times.

Lavishly photographed in sunning black-and-white images, the film is set in a shtetl (small Jewish community) in the eastern border of Poland.  Occasionally, you get the impression that the director is more concerned with her visual style than with her haunting theme or troubled characters, not to mention the harsh realities that surround them (cold, poverty, oppression) and make their very existence nearly impossible.

To increase the level of authenticity, the movie’s dialogue is in Yiddish, Polish, Russian and Gypsy dialects, with English subtitles.


Director and writer: Yolande Zauberman
Producers: Rene Cleitman and Jean-Luc Ormieres
Cinematography: Jean-Marc Fabre
Music: Ghedalia Tazartes

Running time: 105 Minutes