It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl: Film Review

It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl Still - H 2012
Moriah Films

It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl Still - H 2012

Well-crafted doc offers a scholarly account of the birth of Herzl's Zionist movement

Well-pedigreed biography of Zionist leader was produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Finely crafted and balancing sympathy for its subject with obvious scholarship, Richard Trank and Marvin Hier's It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl introduces viewers to one of the most important figures in modern Jewish history. Though handsome, the doc's theatrical appeal is limited to those with a deep interest in Zionism; on home-vid, it will have a broader and long-lived historical value.

The portrait begins with present-day footage of vandalized synagogues and Neo-Nazi marches, over which a solemn voice declares that attacks on Jews "become daily more numerous." Only at the passage's end do we learn these words are not a fearful reminder of anti-Semitism's 21st Century persistence -- they were penned by Theodor Herzl in 1895, long before most people could imagine anything like a Holocaust.

Herzl, an assimilated Jew, didn't identify with his heritage until well into adulthood when, working as a journalist, he began to witness disturbing anti-Jew sentiment surrounding such events as the Dreyfus affair. The filmmakers offer a short but useful introduction to the ways hatred was brewing at the time, leading viewers to wonder why more people weren't as concerned as Herzl became.

For Herzl, protecting Jews (be they religious or not) soon became a passion, coloring his work as a reporter and playwright. In pondering solutions to "The Jewish Question," he seemingly ruled little out: At one point, he considered trying to arrange a mass conversion of European Jewry or challenging leading anti-Semites to duels. Speaking of a possible "apocalypse" in terms modern viewers will find prophetic, he eventually decided the only answer was a single nation where Jews could live without persecution.

Trank and Hier follow Herzl's remarkable campaign for a state of Israel -- in which he courted millionaires and heads of state, convened the first Zionist Congress, and seemingly worked himself into an early grave -- using an impressive array of historical documents and photos. Narrator Ben Kingsley delivers the sometimes drily scholarly account without allowing it to become soporific, getting an assist from Christoph Waltz, who supplies Herzl's voice. All production values, from the presentation of vintage photos to present-day film of historical locales, are top-notch.

Production Company: Moriah Films
Director-Screenwriter: Richard Trank
Producers: Marvin Hier, Richard Trank
Director of photography: Jeffrey Victor
Music: Lee Holdridge
Editor: Nimrod Erez
No rating, 96 minutes