Mirele Efros (1939) USA
Directed by Josef Berne (USA), based on a play by Jacob Gordin
B&W, Yiddish with English subtitles, 80 minutes
Coined ‘the Jewish Queen Lear,’ “Mirele Efros,”was the masterpiece of Ukrainian-born Jacob Gordin, an enormously influential Yiddish playwright whose works sought to describe and promulgate the ethos of mentshlekhkeytor the practice of honesty, decency, and devotion toward family and community. Berta Gersten gives a memorable performance as Mirele, a wealthy and pious widow whose devotion to her children extends to hand-picking a wife for her eldest son, gravely mistaking the young bride’s character as giving and devout. The resulting conflict between the noble Jewish matriarch and her ungrateful, self-serving daughter-in-law provides both a cautionary tale and a lesson in the value of filial piety. This sophisticated cinematic adaptation of Gordin’s stage classic faithfully recreates Jewish life in turn-of-the-century Grodno, Poland. Film restoration and new English subtitles by the National Center for Jewish Film.