Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

Film: Livet i 8 bitar ('8-bit living')

Reasons for watching it: I wanted to watch a Jewish film with my bar mitzvah class, and this was the only vaguely appropriate one available. One of the class had recommended it, and I think she was right to do so.

Circumstances of watching it: There were various logistical problems with organizing this film showing. In the end, I managed to join the synagogue library, which turned out to have a much poorer selection than I'd remembered. In fact, almost everything falls into the two categories I was trying to avoid, either Holocaust stuff or faky Yiddish nostalgia crap. The Producers and The Believer I suspect are too old for 12-year-olds, especially as they don't have that good a grasp of modern Jewish history. Very few of your recommendations were available, sadly. I considered Annie Hall but decided that Woody Allen annoys me too much, and the theme sounded like it would not be very interesting to pre-teens.

In the end I picked up The summer of Aviya, which is Holocaust-related but set in the 50s and dealing with a Survivor getting on with her life. I have a vague memory of seeing it at about the age my pupils are now, and it's based on a YA book so it seemed likely to be well pitched.

Then there was trouble about where we were going to watch the film. We'd hoped to watch in one of the pupils' homes, but didn't manage to organize that. Luckily, the Jewish Centre has a youth room, with comfy sofas, a computer, a Playstation, a small handful of books and board games and a huge wide-screen TV, and we were allowed to borrow this room for the evening. But when we settled down to watch The summer of Aviya, it started jamming and skipping about ten minutes in. One of the youth workers who was floating around lent us Livet i 8 bitar instead.

Verdict: Livet i 8 bitar is rather high-grade fluff.

I'm not going to worry about spoiling Livet i 8 bitar, because I can't imagine that anyone reading would want to watch an obscure Swedish comedy about a Jewish video game geek. IMDb seems to imply that there was a US release as Bit by Bit, but even so. Other than my bar mitzvah class, I really can't imagine who is supposed to be the audience for this!

The story presents J waking up in hospital with one arm completely swathed in bandages. He tells the other patients how he came to be injured: he had reached the final of an international championship for players of retro video games, but in order to travel to LA to compete, he had to take a flight leaving late in the evening of Seder night. His attempts to persuade his family to rush the Seder so that he could catch his plane lead to hilarity and eventually the catastrophe in which he loses his hand. Interspersed with this story, we get bits of flashback showing his relationship with his non-Jewish girlfriend and his family's difficulties in accepting that, as well as a little bit about his grandfather struggling as a refugee in immediate post-war Sweden. That part helps to balance what could otherwise be a nasty send-up of a stereotypical elderly Yiddish speaking grandparent who keeps saying things like "To think I lived through Auschwitz for this!"

It's a competely unpretentious film, with the comedy ranging from the unsophisticated to the downright physical. Its success is in creating believable, sympathetic characters, and it is never unkind even though it mocks them thoroughly. There's a lot of opportunty for lazy stereotyping, and the film never descends into that. It's not by any means a political film about disability, any more than it's a profound and serious epic, but by the standards of fluffy rom-coms it's not half bad. The hospital ward contains people dealing with the aftermath of injury who are neither poor tragic cases, nor brave heroes, nor disgusting pariahs. J's recovery and adaptation to life with one hand is shown as being frustrating, but not as ruining his life without any hope. Likewise with the gender stuff; it is very easily possible to make an awful film about a couple bickering because the male spends too much time on computer games and not enough on being romantic, but Livet i 8 bitar completely avoids those pitfalls.

It's not absolutely ideal for the age-group, but not far off either. I think it was quite fun for the bar mitzvah class to see a brief shot of J's father having his bar mitzvah in the very recognizable synagogue where they will have their ceremonies next year! There are some very mild sex scenes; it's kind of a running joke that J keeps interrupting intimate moments in order to go and play video games. The pupils were very amusingly disgusted by any hint of kissing or shots of two intertwined bodies under the bedcovers, shrieking and covering their eyes and being very twelve. But I don't think that made it impossible for them to enjoy the film; the sex was a very minor element.

Generally, it's interesting for them to see a film that deals with an assimilated family trying to cope with Jewish ritual and the expectations of the older generation, who though not particularly religious have a strong sense of tribal identity. And I'm particularly glad that we happened to end up with a Swedish example; an American equivalent might have contained too much incomprehensible cultural background.

The copy we had had no subtitles available, so I'm quite proud of my ability to follow the dialogue in variously accented Swedish! It wasn't quite the positive rounding off of the term that I had hoped for; the film came to and end and everyone just drifted off. But never mind. One of the pupils gave me a bunch of flowers, which made me feel like a real teacher. And on the way home I visited the Stockholm food fair which is going on at the moment, and ate a nice snack meal at the booth belonging to the Ethiopian restaurant. Mm, injera.
Tags: film, jewish

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