Quarrel

The Quarrel, a Canadian film that premiered at the l991 Toronto Film Festival, is finally getting released in Los Angeles. Based on Chaim Grode's short story, “My Quarrel With Hersh Rasseyner,” arguably one of most powerful works of modern Yiddish literature, the story concerns a writer who accidentally meets a religious friend he believed was killed in the Holocaust.

The two-character feature provides a stimulating confrontation between two opposing world: the secular and the religious. What makes the movie interesting is the high-level intellectual discourse and the fact that it never loses its humanistic concerns. Though the film centers on our common, daily struggle to make sense of the world we live in, it's also an affecting and emotional story of friendship, trust, and loyalty.

The yarn takes place in l948, when European Jews were still haunted by the devastating effects of the Holocaust and WWII. Living in New York, Chaim Kovler (R.H. Thomson) is a disillusioned writer whose skepticism and bitterness has made him aloof, insular, and unfeeling. While on a trip to Montreal for a reading of his poetry, he comes across Orthodox Jews who are observing Rosh Hashanah. The sight of the Jews performing the “Tashlich” custom, reminds Kovler, who has abandoned religious faith, of his childhood in Poland and of his oldest friend Hersh Rasseyner, who presumably has been killed in the war.

The reunion of the once intimate friends forces them to come to terms with their relationship–which fell apart once Kovler became a secular writer–their losses, and themselves. Most of the movie is set in Montreal's beautiful Mount Royal Park and, yes, it's a cerebral experience with no production values or visual effects.

But the stimulating dialogue is always engaging. Screenwriter David Brandes, who adapted Joseph Telushkin's play (based on Grade's story), Israeli director Eli Cohen, and the two excellent actors, Saul Rubinek and R.H. Thomson, should be congratulated for making a movie that runs against the grain of most contemporary Hollywood products. The greatest achievement of The Quarrel is that it unabashedly and unashamedly tackles the issues of religious faith and moral guidance without ever trivializing them.