Hester Street (review)

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Carol Kane (The Princess Bride) garnered an Oscar nomination in 1975 for her intensely, intimately realized performance here as Gitl, a Russian immigrant to New York in the 1890s, but the rest of the package around her isn’t quite so satisfying. Shot in moody black-and-white — which looks crisp and clean in the new digital transfer, enhanced for widescreen TVs — this is the first film from director Joan Micklin Silver (who went on such works as Crossing Delancey), and while her labor-of-love trials in getting the film produced are commendable, the result does suffer from low-budget-itis. The drama of Gitl’s assimilation into American society is stagey and static, confined to small sets that seem to pen in the energetic cast, from Stephen Keats, as Gitl’s husband, who’s been in New York for years prior to his wife’s arrival and has taken up for another, more sophisticated woman than embarrassingly provincial Gitl, to multiple Emmy winner Doris Roberts as the kindly neighbor who takes Gitl under her wing. The extras are quite nice, though, and include commentary by director Micklin Silver and producer Raphael Silver, cast and crew interviews, and intriguing liner notes by Victoria Brownworth and Judith Redding, authors of the book Film Fatales, that places the film in its context within cinema history.

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