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Gimpel the Fool

 
Jane Enkin Reviews Fascinating Film by Howard Rypp,'Gimpel the Fool Returns to Poland'- Winnipeg International Jewish Film Festival 2024 June 14, 4:30

by Jane Enkin, May 27,2024

This film is fascinating, tender, and moving. From the dream-like opening shot of an old-world Jew, walking a path through an overgrown graveyard, we are led into the experiences of Gimpel the Fool and of  Howard Rypp, director, actor and creator of the film. Rypp is born and raised in Winnipeg and is the longtime artistic director of Nephesh Theatre in Tel Aviv.

The documentary is based on Rypp’s tour of Poland with his one-man play drawn from Isaac Bashevis Singer's story Gimpel the Fool. While in Poland, Rypp was filmed in conversations with Polish theatre professionals and on drives to sites of interest. Most evocatively, he was filmed in costume as Gimpel, wondering at all he sees.

The film documents the tour to several Polish towns. All of them once had significant Jewish populations, destroyed during the Holocaust. Rypp appears in character as Gimpel in excerpts from his play and in Gimpel’s astonished explorations of towns, forests and graveyards.

The original title of Bashevis’ story is Gimpel Tam. In Hebrew, tam can mean naive, simple, like the third of the four sons in the Passover Haggadah. But tam can also mean perfect, unblemished, complete. Scenes from the play included in the film bring out the connection between the two meanings, as Gimpel discovers his sense of faith. Gimpel is a gullible fool in the eyes of the people of his town, yet his will to believe is his strength.

The film is carefully and beautifully crafted. There are deep, saturated colours in scenes of Gimpel in the director’s play and in his wanderings. Paler, more realistic sunlit colours appear during conversations and Rypp’s visits to towns and neighbouring sites. The evocative lighting in scenes from Rypp’s one-man play of the story contributes to the overall feeling of the film. I especially enjoyed a scene in which Gimpel, a baker, tossed sprays of flour into the air, magically catching the light. The film returns often to an interview with Bashevis, who died in 1991, speaking of towns he lived in before the war and what they meant to him and his writing. Rypp visited these towns during his time in Poland.The film returns often to an interview with Bashevis, who died in 1991, speaking of towns he lived in before the war and what they meant to him and his writing. Rypp visited these towns during his time in Poland. During his tour, Rypp became concerned about lingering antisemitism in Poland and avoidance of the past on the part of many people there. Nevertheless, he was heartened to speak with Polish professionals who are passionate about creating awareness of the vanished pre-war Jewish community of Poland. 

The film returns often to an interview with Bashevis, who died in 1991, speaking of towns he lived in before the war and what they meant to him and his writing. Rypp visited these towns during his time in Poland.

During his tour, Rypp became concerned about lingering antisemitism in Poland and avoidance of the past on the part of many people there. Nevertheless, he was heartened to speak with Polish professionals who are passionate about creating awareness of the vanished pre-war Jewish community of Poland. (By the way, the film contains no mention of the small revival of Jewish life in Poland today, as young people raised without a connection to their Jewish past explore their roots. Polish author and director Katka Reszke presented on the topic at Limmud Winnipeg in 2018. Here is a link to an interview with her:  https://yivo.org/return-of-the-jew-interview-with-katka-reszke?

Disclosure: Rypp and I are cousins. The last time I saw him in Winnipeg, he spoke with great enthusiasm about the development of this documentary project. The effort has paid off in a tender, powerful film.

 
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