'Reinventing Rosalee': Film Review

Random Media
A glorified home movie.

Lillian Glass' documentary serves as a cinematic tribute to her 102-year-old Holocaust survivor mother.

There's no debating that 102-year-old Rosalee Glass is an inspiring woman. A Holocaust survivor who was imprisoned in a Siberian gulag during the war, Rosalee has survived endless travails, including the loss of her husband and three of her children. In her 80s she resolved to lift herself out of a severe depression and begin life anew. She began taking piano, tai chi, dancing and even boxing lessons. She took acting classes and started a successful career appearing in commercials. And she celebrated her 100th birthday by fulfilling her years-long dream of dog-sledding in Alaska. It's enough to make you kvell.

Unfortunately, Reinventing Rosalee, the new film about her directed by her daughter Lillian Glass, feels less like a documentary than the most elaborate Mother's Day present ever.

The filmmaker, a best-selling author and "body language expert," certainly had no shortage of dramatic biographical material with which to work. Using a combination of archival and stock footage, home movies and personal photographs, and present-day interviews with the ever-cheerful Rosalee, the film chronicles her mother's life from her 1917 birth in Warsaw to the present day. We learn of her experiences during the war, including her meeting and subsequently marrying a man who "looked just like Cary Grant" (cue the footage from vintage Cary Grant movies). After the war, she and her husband spent time in a displaced persons camp before relocating to America and settling in Miami. "Everything was so bright and clean," Rosalee recalls of her new home. "After what I went through, it was like heaven."

After contracting tuberculosis, her husband spent three years in a Denver sanitarium. Upon his return, he lost his sight in one eye and was unable to resume his career as a watchmaker. Rosalee went to work for the first time and the couple eventually started their own business. They lived a happy life together until his death; several years later, Rosalee's middle-aged son died as well, as a result of a botched medical procedure. After a lengthy period of mourning, Rosalee turned her life around and began acting in television commercials. She won a senior beauty pageant award ("Miss Congeniality") at age 94 and wrote a book, 100 Years of Wisdom: To Guide You Through Life's Ups and Downs.

Rosalee, in short, is the sort of mother or grandmother we all wish to have. But this cinematic tribute is too insular and self-indulgent to be of interest to anyone other than family members and friends. Anyone who's sat miserably through a friend's vacation photos will cringe at the footage of Rosalee's late-in-life travels around the world with her daughter, documenting such experiences as meeting the Pope and urinating in Josef Stalin's personal toilet (the latter proved particularly satisfying, considering her wartime experiences). The film even includes a testimonial by Rosalee's doctor about her amazing physical fitness, which she credits to her Pilates regimen. And, of course, we see her working out.

Most egregiously, the filmmaker takes a victory lap herself, devoting a long segment to her own career. The segment is masked as a testament to Rosalee's pride in her daughter's accomplishments, but it mainly smacks of blatant self-promotion.  

Production company: Your Total Image Productions
Distributor: Random Media
Director-producer: Lillian Glass
Screenwriters: Rosalee Glass, Lillian Glass
Director of photography: Marcel Melanson
Editor: George Artope
Composer: Misha Segal

80 minutes