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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

The Chosen
Directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan
Fox Home Entertainment 01/82 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG

1941. Brooklyn, New York. Reuven Malter (Barry Miler) and Danny Saunders (Robby Benson) are on opposite teams in a baseball game. As the competition heats up, Danny hits the ball directly at Reuven, the pitcher; his glasses shatter and one of his eyes is cut. At the hospital, Danny tries to apologize, but Reuven — convinced that he'll never see out of the eye again — refuses the gesture. Later, the two boys establish a friendship that bridges the differences in their upbringings.

Reuven's father is a professor who teaches and writes about contemporary Jewish affairs. Danny's dad is the charismatic head of a group of Hassidic Jews who study the Talmud and structure their lives around ancient European customs. Although Reb Saunders expects his son to succeed him, Danny's interest in psychology leads him into a much wider world. Reuven plays a large role in introducing his friend to the secular culture of art, film, and music.

The Chosen is based on Chaim Potok's best-selling 1967 novel and has been brought to the screen by producers Edie and Ely Landau. Director Jeremy Paul Kagan draws out strong performances from the four lead characters: Robby Benson as Danny, Rod Steiger as his father, Barry Miller as Reuven, and Maximilian Schell as Mr. Malter. The drama is filled with colorful details of Hassidic rituals and lifestyle. In one scene, Reuven is present for a wedding that culminates with a soulful dance. And throughout, he learns about the Hassidic spiritual tradition of the silence of a righteous man.

A rift develops between the two friends during college when Mr. Malter begins crusading for a Jewish homeland. Reb Saunders rejects Zionist politics as blasphemy — a refusal to take seriously the coming of the Messiah. Danny is not allowed to speak to Reuven for months until the state of Israel becomes a fact.

At one point, Reb Saunders tells Reuven: "It is not easy to be a friend." The film probes sharing, empathy, and patience — personal qualities that are at the heart of all true friendship. The Chosen is an ideal family film and ought to be very appealing to religious groups.

 

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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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