Monday, August 9, 2010

Should we... or should we not?

What’s so funny about anti-Semitism? From Mel Brooks to Quentin Tarantino, filmmakers have sought to explore the wildly funny and the darkly comedic sides of the 20th century’s definitive genocide. Some used it to mock the perpetrators (“The Producers”), while others used it as a mode of cultural revenge (“Inglourious Basterds”). Some used comedy to celebrate the human spirit that could triumph over such darkness (“Life is Beautiful”), and some used it to help an entire culture grapple with its own difficult past (as in a slew of German films since “Goebbels and Geduldig” aired in 2002).
What about “A Modest Suggestion”? This film, based on Ken Kaissar’s fantastic play, cuts to the heart of the matter: genocide is funny because it doesn’t make sense. Kaissar’s corporate characters, who begin with the question “should we or should we not kill the Jews”, quickly find themselves questioning stereotypes and struggling with the very question of Jewish identity. When they can’t come up with a good reason, they come up with a bad one. What starts as a logical conversation devolves in to a jumble of emotion and intellectual laziness.
That’s what makes “A Modest Suggestion” so unique. It addresses not the criminals, nor the crimes, but the pseudo-philosophizing that ‘justifies’ hatred, bigotry and murder. I am not aware of any films that have examined this so directly or creatively as Ken’s work. That is a big part of what thrills me about bringing “A Modest Suggestion” to the screen.

So, can a depiction of anti-Semitism's central question function as a satirical critique of itself? You know what I think -- what do you think?


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