Chaim Potok's novel "The Chosen" offered a fsacinating insight into the closed world of the Hasidic congregation. For a Goy like myself, who viewed this community as an eccentric group of long bearded men, who dressed in dark clothing reminiscent of another century, and who formed the backdrop in many Holocaust dramas and musicals, this was an inately revealing and touching novel which opened a window on a history and culture I was in complete ignorance of.
The Hasidic doctrine is controversial in the geo-political context of the state of Israel, and in it's cultural and social conservatism. The film, like the book, reveals the inner conflict of Hasidism with a more secular Judaism through the charachters of it's four main protagonists. The film is a sympathetic study of this independant and resilient community. Chaim Potok was a practising Rabbi, Jeremy Paul Kagan (the films director) was the son of a Rabbi, and the empatheic warmth of both men illuminates this poignant film.
At times it resembles one of those worthy "True Movies" that seem to pop up every week on American T.V. But the fact it is filmed within the Hasidic community itself, gives it an authentic atmosphere that is priceless. The four lead performances from Robbie Benson, Barry Miller, Maximilian Schell, and Rod Steiger, are beautifully drawn, Steiger in particular as the dominating patriarch Reb Saunders conveys a wonderful sense of spirituality and gravitas, probably his last truly great role.
Historically and socially a fascinating glimpse into a community struggling to find it's way in a post war world dealing with the awful legacy of the Holocaust, and the growing influence of Zionism and the hope for a Nation State, this a deeply moving and enlightening experience.