Two searing, semi-autobiographical films by Jewish directors
open tomorrow in Detroit area theaters.
tional Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) acts as his father's disciple,
parroting dad's imperious dismissals of books such as This
Side of Paradise as "minor Fitzgerald." But after his parents'
divorce, traumatic events sour Walt's father-worship, allow-
rickly relationships between fathers and sons, messy
ing the boy to become his own person.
divorces and radical personal awakenings. All are
The characters are inspired by Baumbach's life with his
subjects tackled in Noah Baumbach's The Squid and
father (and mother), both lauded writers, in Brooklyn in
the Whale and Ira Sachs' Forty Shades of Blue. Both won top
the 1980s. Although his mother is Protestant, young Noah
prizes at this year's Sundance Film Festival — and both are
identified as Jewish because he felt a connection to the
generating Oscar buzz. They also have another thing in corn- People of the Book. Family discussions abounded about
mon: Each film reflects the current cultural obsession with
"major" and "minor" Dickens, meta-fiction and why one
the unflinching family memoir.
should not bother to read Jack Kerouac's On the Road.
Baumbach, recently married to actress Jennifer Jason
"On the one hand, it was incredibly valuable — and very
Leigh, and Sachs, both in their 30s, live blocks from each
Jewish — to be introduced to so many classics," the 35-
other in a predominantly Jewish Manhattan neighborhood.
year-old director said. "But on the other, I was rejecting a
In separate interviews, the directors described how psy-
lot of books I hadn't even read, like the character of Walt in
chotherapy spurred these highly personal, if fictionalized
the movie. I dismissed On the Road as juvenile, when in
works. They also talked about their real fathers, and how
fact I was a juvenile and probably should have had the
Judaism influences their worldview.
experience of reading it.
"I was running around and pretending I was some bril-
liant person': he added. "But I wasn't doing well in school
because I wasn't doing the work. It can be intimidating
The title of Baumbach's blistering, darkly comic film, The when you're assigned to read a classic and you know it's
good for you but [difficult]. You feel like, 'What's wrong
Squid and the Whale, alludes to "The Clash of the Titans"
with me: and you bag off of it."
diorama at Manhattan's American Museum of Natural
When his parents divorced, suddenly the family he had
History. But it also becomes a metaphor for the battle
viewed as superior collapsed, and he worried the neighbors
between a confused Jewish teenager and his hypercritical,
would discover the Baumbachs weren't so great.
intellectual father, played by Jeff Daniels. Initially, the fic-
Young Noah survived
and grew up to collaborate
with director Wes
Anderson and to make
three films — including
1995's art house success
Kicking and Screaming —
while still in his 20s. Yet he
remained dissatisfied with
these clever comedies of
manners, because he felt
he was "writing from the
outside in" It was only psy-
chotherapy and the matu-
rity of reaching age 30 that
allowed him to confront
His thoughts turned to
his adolescence, and he
initially toyed with writing
about two brothers in their
Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale
30s who deal retroactively
Jewish Journal of Greater
October 27 2005
starting from a
very real place,
was able to
fictionalize in a
with their parents' divorce. Then by chance, he saw Louis
Malle's Murmur of the Heart, which inspired him to focus
on the children's point of view.
"I went directly to that time in my life and told the story
from there': he said. "By starting from a very real place, I
was able to fictionalize in a much more effective way"
Wearing longish, styled hair and a chic suit, Baumbach
looks nothing like the scruffy Brooklynites in his film. He
speaks softly except when describing the reviews that say
Squid lambastes his real father, who was keenly aware of
the movie project.
"I feel protected by the film because it is a fiction, an
artistic achievement:' he said. "If I really was intending to
eviscerate my father, I would feel much more vulnerable."
Even so, actor Daniels noted similarities between
Baumbach's father and his character during a visit to the
writer's Brooklyn home.
"It was his enjoyment of finding a word and using it to
describe something that only he would say:" Daniels said.
"He would use terms like 'fillet' of the neighborhood, or
how his beard was looking 'a little feral: And then there
would be a little flash of the eyes, looking at the person he
just said that to, wondering if they're as impressed with
what he just did as he was!'
Actor Eisenberg was more starry-eyed when Baumbach
senior visited the set, responding as his character would
have to Daniels' character.
"I felt reverential because I had read one of his books
and I had really liked if,' he said.
Baumbach, meanwhile, insists that his father loves the
film — and that there is no squid and whale fight here. He
said his dad is proud of his achievements. And so is the
"I have learned the value of an emotional approach to
filmmaking:' he said.
Class And Character
The film Forty Shades of Blue arises emotionally out of the
1968 split-up of Ira Sachs' parents and its aftermath. At age
5, Ira began accompanying his father on his bachelor out-
ings in a Cadillac convertible in the environs of Memphis,
Tenn. Sachs senior, a real estate mogul,"was a man about
town, and he had lots of women in his life," the 39-year-old
director recalled. Young Ira spent many evenings at bars and
parties or riding in the back of the Cadillac with one of his
father's much-younger girlfriends.
"Initially I felt antagonism for these women, because they
were so different from me in terms of culture, education and
Prickly Fathers on page 74