A sparkling gem of the New York Jewish Film Festival is the U.S. premiere of the restored Joseph Green-Konrad Tom’s 1938 Yiddish film “Mamele.”
Starring Molly Picon, the 5-foog-tall, 100 lb. phenom of Yiddish stage and screen, the film is set in Poland’s textile hub of Lodz, but was shot in just six weeks on a Warsaw back lot.
Picon’s character Khavtsi, a daughter of a ne’er do well widower, is dubbed “mamele” (little mother) as she tirelessly caters to a seven-strong, unappreciative and demanding family. A Yiddish Cinderella, Picon shops, schleps, cooks, cleans, dreams of love and is the ”go to” person when someone has a problem — be it romance, or rescuing a youngster caught up in a shady scheme.
The setting is urban, the young men and women are 1930s fashionably dressed. There is nightclubbing, drinking, double-dealing, and– a handsome sweet musician across the courtyard. As tireless as the Energizer bunny, Picon is so delicious and quirky, you want to give her a knip in bekl (pinch her cheek).
In a dreamlike montage, she morphs — in stages — from a dancing little girl to a frail 78-year old dancing with her fingers and bobbing her head. Picon also launches the hit song “Abi Gezunt” (as long as you are healthy) which has become a standard for Yiddish performers down the decades. As for the romantic finale — it involves a scene-stealing ketzele (kitten) which will have cat lovers purring.