Solomon & Gaenor (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
|Two thumbs up - and we were surprised to like
Scoop's comments in white:
Solomon is a young Jewish man who peddles fabric door-to-door in a bleak, misty, eternally rainy Welsh industrial town in 1911. Right away you have to wonder about the intelligence of his parents. OK, we know they are the victims of one of the ongoing anti-semitic pogroms in Eastern Europe and they had to leave Russia. That much I understand. Now let's see if we can imagine their conversations - being good tailors and good businessmen, they must have a strategy for where they will go. You don't just run from Russia, you have to go to somewhere.Well, let's see, where should we go? The USA or Europe, where people have money to spend, and tailors are always in demand? Hong Kong? Singapore? Brazil? Canada? London? Nope, lets move to Wales, where they have no economy to speak of, a completely obscure language which we don't speak, and a closed Christian mining community that doesn't understand outsiders with different ways. Oh, yeah, and let's start our business in a really poor town in Wales, where the locals will not only mistrust us, but even if they come to trust us in time, they will still have no money to spend on tailoring.
Wales? What in God's name prompted them to move to Wales? It's not like the Welsh Tourism Commission was putting out a lot of feelers to the Jewish community, or to anyone else for that matter, were they?
Well, anyway, there they are, and Solomon is smitten by a beautiful, sincere, simple, churchgoing lass he meets in his daily rounds. He lies to her about his background, he courts her, wins her, gets her pregnant, and .....
.... well, you just know things are going to turn very sour. If you hadn't figured it out, you could just listen for the trag-o-matic music, then look at the grey skies, and you'd get the idea.
The film has been compared to Romeo and Juliet because S&G are doomed lovers, but that is really not a fair comparison. There is no tragedy artificially imposed on them by external circumstances. They are two people who get the exact consequences that they should have expected from the actions they took. And the actions they took were the impetuous and foolish things that young people will do to be together when they are in love and lust.
Solomon knows from the outset that his family will never accept a working class Christian woman, but he pursues her anyway. He knows that she won't date him if she knows he's Jewish, so he lies about his upbringing. They both know that having sex every fifteen minutes will eventually result in pregnancy, but they do it anyway. A good Christian girl in 1911 knows she shouldn't be dropping her skirts for a boy she's only known for a couple days, but she does it anyway. (What were the odds of that in 1911? He must have found the only easy non-prostitute in all of Christendom. Talk about "getting lucky"!)
So this story is not really about the context of their intolerant families, ala Romeo and Juliet. In this version of the star-crossed love affair, the family context is only the backdrop for a story about young people who pursue young love irrespective of the consequences. It's important to realize that the shelter of love was far more important for them than it would be for us in today's suburbia. In addition to romantic love, we also have other moments in life to treasure. In contrast, these are people with miserable, boring lives in a miserable dirty, rainy town. Their love provides the only oasis of contentment in what seems like a bleak and infinite desert. They want the affair, they know the consequences of having it, and they pay the price to have it anyway.
There's a lot of bleak reality on display here, and I found it completely believable. I didn't sense any bullshit as the story unfolded, and I didn't have to stretch my credulity to accept any of the details. Those are really the kinds of things that real people do at that age. The fistfight between Solomon and Gaenor's brother was one of the most realistic fight scenes I've ever seen, and they look like real guys fighting, not like movie cowboys following moves dictated by a choreographer. One can feel every jarring blow, and can feel Solomon's frustration because he has the courage for the fight, but not the size or ability to trade blows with a burly worker. The sex scenes are realistic as well. None of that smooth, romantic, slow, under-the-sheets stuff. Just normal folks getting it on, not really clicking at first, but gradually developing a trust for each other, then establishing a rhythm, and then really liking and getting into sex together.
Eventually, pregnant Gaenor is sent away by her parents, and Solomon is shipped off to a prosperous uncle, but their need to be together overcomes the circumstances. In the end, despairing, Solomon finally tracks down his sequestered lover by following her on foot through the wintry countryside. He makes it there, but the effects of the harsh cold, sleeping in the snow, and getting beaten up by tough Welshmen has taken its toll on his body, and he dies.
Sorry, no Hollywood ending for this couple.
Tuna's comments in yellow:
Solomon & Gaenor is a tale set in pre WW I Welsh coal mining valleys about tensions between staunch Protestant Welsh miners and Orthodox Jewish merchants who immigrated from Russia. Based on historical fact, writer/director Paul Morrisson was inspired by riots that broke out among striking Welsh miners, who ended up looting Jewish businesses. The Jews had money, and were an easy target for the miner's frustration with strikes, poor working conditions, etc. This was Morrisson's first feature film -- his background was in documentaries. He chose an cross-cultural tragic love story as a means to explore the cultural differences.
Solomon is a young Jewish son of a store owner, who is not convinced that Judaism is the answer to everything. When his family turns him from accountant to packman (door-to-door salesman), he meets Gaenor, daughter of a Welsh mining family. Solomon falls instantly, as does Gaenor. Solomon hides the fact that he is Jewish from her, and they begin a passionate affair. Her pregnancy, and the public condemnation from her church, make the relationship nearly impossible. Solomon's secret is revealed, and both families do everything in their power to keep the two apart. Ioan Gruffudd as Solomon is brilliant, and he has real chemistry with the less experienced Nia Roberts, who plays Gaenor. It was important to Morrison to recreate accurate 1911 era Welsh mining towns, and also to have the Jews speaking Yiddish and the Welsh speaking Welsh. He had the lovers using English with each other in the English/International version, but also made a Welsh version where the two used Welsh. This required finding a young actress who could speak Welsh, and had the right chemistry with Gruffudd.
Morrisson's documentary experience is evident, as he uses a rich color palate, dramatic photography, and spectacular scenery. I enjoyed this film very much. The chemistry between the young lovers was palpable, the production values were superb, and the film dealt with the clash of cultures with great fairness and sensitivity. The pace was leisurely, but, with the photography, that didn't detract from my enjoyment. I put it at 3.5 stars of 4, with a caution that it is for genre fans only.
I refused an invitation to see this in the theaters, then I avoided watching it on DVD. I thought to myself, "Get real. A film in Welsh and Yiddish about a mining town at the turn of the century? Later to that crap."
I was totally wrong. Ultimately I ended up liking it. It's not a "feel good" picture, it's not an easy watch, it's not light entertainment, and really isn't a mass audience picture at all, but if the description sounds interesting to you, and you have plenty of hankies to make it through the ending, the film has a lot of plusses.
Return to the Movie House home page