Audiences at the 2012 Starz Denver Film Festival earlier this month likely found it uncomfortable to sit through the 29 minutes of Pearl Gluck’s’s short film, “Where Is Joel Baum.” That, however, is a good thing, because the film tells the kind of story that introduces you to a disturbing, yet riveting, title character, and leaves you wanting to know what happens to him next. That is precisely the intention of the filmmaker, who intends to turn this short into a full-length feature.
Joel Baum is the heir to a Hasidic dynasty in Brooklyn. Now an adult, he has been living since childhood with his grandmother and grandfather, the Grand Rabbi, following the death of his parents and siblings in a car accident. Joel, with his peyes and tzizis looks the part of a Hasid, and he seems to appreciate his heritage and the religious way of life. But at the same time, his obsessions with riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle, and with listening to raunchy Lenny Bruce recordings, clearly hint at the fact that Joel is not your usual bearded, kapote-wearing, young Jew.
Joel is beyond eccentric. He is mentally and emotionally unstable, and this instability appears to reach a painful crescendo during an arranged date with a young Hasidic woman from Montreal. However, we soon learn that this is only a prelude to the tragic climax of the film, which takes place during a heated, sexually charged exchange between Joel and Anya, an attractive Polish cleaning woman hired by the grandmother to clean the house before Shabbat.
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