By Jenny Brown
Hester Street is a delightfully quaint film about the
assimilation of Jewish immigrants in America in the late 1800s. Steven
Keats is Jake, a self-made Yankee who has shaved his beard and side curls
in favor of an updated look. An émigré from Russia, Jake's been living
in New York's Lower East Side for five years, taking up with a new woman
and earning enough money to support his dance hall ways. To his dismay,
his wife, Gitl (played charmingly by Carol Kane), and son, Yossele, join
him from the Old World. Jake is embarrassed by his wife, who retains her
religious ways, wearing the wigs and scarves that tradition dictates. In
turn, Gitl is distraught over the changes in Jake, who insists on calling
their son Joey and trying to modernize them both.
Those used to Kane as a comedian will be surprised at her quiet
performance in this simple period piece, for which she was nominated for
an Academy Award. Her story, though, is compelling, and in the end,
immensely satisfying. The black and white film is rough around the
edges--microphones in shots, occasional poor sound--but Hester Street
nonetheless offers an engaging look at another time and a completely
different way of life.
Hester Street received an Academy
Awards nomination for Actress (Carol Kane).