In a Jewish-Hispanic Fairy Tale, A Witch With a Yiddish Accent

By Ilan Stavans

Published October 17, 2003, issue of October 17, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Quick: How many movies with Jewish-Hispanic themes can you name?

Okay, time’s up. But don’t feel bad if your list is a bit short. I know something about these matters and could only come up with about six titles, including “The Jewish Gauchos,” based on the literary classic by Alberto Gerchunoff and set in the Argentine Pampa in 1910, and the black-and-white drama “The Pawnbroker,” with Rod Steiger, about a remorseful Holocaust survivor and a Puerto Rican youngster in New York.

This, no doubt, is a sorrowful number for Latin America, a region with a Jewish population just under half a million, a bit less than that of France. But the bad news gets worse. The content of these films is — oy, oy, oy — always too serious. Immigrants and prostitutes and revolutionaries… why isn’t anybody laughing? I recently counted the total number of comic scenes in my collection and came up with a paltry two.

Enter “Samy and I,” which premieres on Tuesday, November 6, as part of the Boston Jewish Film Festival. I laughed my Mexican pants off in this comedy of Argentine-Jewish angst by director Eduardo Milewicz, which became a huge success in Buenos Aires.

The plot is familiar enough: Meet Samuel Goldstein. About to turn 40, he acts and thinks like Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks combined into a Nathan’s frankfurter. He also works in television, but — what else is new? — he hates his job. Is there a Jewish neurotic who is happy with what he has? Samy’s dream is to write the great Latin American novel. You will ask: Don’t we have enough already by guys like Gabriel Garcîa Márquez and Julio Cortázar? Who needs more?

Is Samy a schlemazel? Or is he a schlemiel? His girlfriend is a Lacanian psychobabbler; his sister is depressed, and his Jewish mother is… well, una madre judía. One day, amid a stream of consciousness in which Samy recognizes that he is a good-for-nothing, he stumbles upon Mary, a gorgeous model. Mary persuades him of his unappreciated talents. You’re a neurotic but also a genius, she tells him. Just let your inner yo free in front of the television camera. Soon he becomes the star of his own program, “El Show de Samy Goldstein,” and everyone goes berserk. His manias and phobias are recognized as representative of Argentina as a whole. The nice Jewish boy becomes everyman’s hero.

Milewicz’s artistic touch is gentle and intelligent. His screenplay is smooth and engaging, but I suspect that American audiences will get only half of a half of its true value. Years ago, I was compelled to watch Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” in Madrid, dubbed in Spanish. The effect was soporific. Likewise, the English subtitles in “Samy and I,” God bless them, are a killer.

Still, the effort is worth the while, mainly because the cast includes actor Ricardo Darín, a non-Jewish Italian who captures the Argentine zeitgeist to perfection, and Angie Cepeda, supremely convincing as the Colombian beauty.

At any rate, the plight of Jews in the Southern Hemisphere is finally portrayed as a whopper, which, as far as I’m concerned, is big news. No tomb desecrators here, no torturers — only a modern fairy tale with a witch in a Yiddish accent.

Ilan Stavans is the Lewis-Sebring professor in Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College. His books include “On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language” (Penguin) and “Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language” (HarperCollins).






Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.