arts & entertainment
The Zigzag Kid
Special to the Jewish News
n unabashed crowd-pleaser in
a Day-Glo package, The Zigzag
Kid transports young-at-heart
viewers on a magic carpet of charming
hijinks and manic energy.
Belgian director Vincent Bal has trans-
posed vaunted Israeli novelist David
Grossman's beloved 1994 coming-of-age
adventure fantasy from the Promised
Land to a candy-cane Europe. The result
is a confection of a film that dispenses
laughs and life lessons en route to a poi-
gnant moral about the blood ties that
A family film whose most ardent
admirers will be children, The Zigzag Kid
is fueled by primal adolescent urges. Not
the ones you're thinking of, but the press-
ing need to comprehend the past, navigate
the present and manipulate the future.
The opening credits immediately set
the tone in smile-inducing style, employ-
ing split-screens, a full-spectrum palette
and a pop score to evoke the spy movies
(and parodies) of the 1960s and '70s.
As his 13th birthday approaches, cute-
as-a-bug Nono is starting to figure out he
can't abide the rules and conventions that
most people passively accept. He's not a
An action-packed family film.
rebel — he admires his detective father to
the extent that he mimics Dad's deductive
skills and wants to follow in his gumshoes
— so much as a creative thinker and fear-
The title comes from Nono's iconoclasm
as well as the gold pin in the shape of a Z
that the world's greatest thief, Felix Glick,
leaves behind as his signature.
But I'm getting ahead of the story. After
one of Nono's bright ideas accidentally
sends a cousin's bar mitzvah reception up
in smoke, our erstwhile hero is dispatched
to boring Uncle Shmuel as punishment.
But his dad's plan is derailed within
moments of Nono boarding the train,
launching the lad on a mission that takes
him to the south of France and back.
The Zigzag Kid is tons of fun as it sets
its inspired plot in motion while Nono is a
splendid protagonist who never devolves
from endearing to tiresome. It helps that
he's aware he's not completely self-suffi-
cient, for that dollop of humility tempers
In fact, Nono relishes the maternal
attention and affection of his father's
(ahem) live-in secretary, Gaby. The boy
never knew his mother, who died when
he was an infant, and he'd be very happy
if the current domestic arrangement con-
tinued ad infinitum. (Or, better yet, was
sealed with marriage
vows if his father
could muster the
moxie to propose.)
But I'm getting
behind the story. No
matter. Suffice to say
that Nono crosses
paths with the
Glick, who quickly
as an alternate role
model with his blend of resourcefulness
At a certain point, the pieces start to
click into place (especially for the adults),
dissipating the film's aura of cleverness.
Everyone likes a happy ending, sure
— although be advised a tragedy is
revealed en route — but The Zigzag Kid
trumpets an allegiance to the primacy of
the two-parent family that is downright
Oddly, I discerned no particular
insights into the lives, past or present, of
European Jews. In the process of relocat-
ing the story from Israel to the Continent,
Vincent Bal appears to have focused on
preserving the novel's themes and skipped
the opportunity to allude to 20th-century
history or current events.
A scene from The Zigzag Kid
One consequence is that The Zigzag Kid
could be anybody, and not necessarily a
fully assimilated Jewish boy whose prepa-
ratory, pre-bar mitzvah entry to manhood
consists of a unique and remarkable trea-
He finds his mother's identity, and his,
and we get to go along for the ride. Not a
bad deal for all concerned, actually.
The Zigzag Kid screens at 8 p.m.
Wednesday, May 7, at the Berman
Center in West Bloomfield; and
at 8 p.m. Monday, May 5, at the
Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.
A black comedy.
Special to the Jewish News
eth Fisher wasn't leaving anything
to chance. No way was he going
to chicken out. Because the one
thing worse than the trials and tribula-
tions of independent filmmaking is being
embarrassed in front of your peers.
So Fisher, actor and would-be auteur,
took on two projects simultaneously: his
first feature-length movie and a blog.
As soon as I started the movie, I started
this blog called watchmemakeamovie.com .
Every day, I'd write what I did that day. I
figured if I announced to the world that I
was going to make a movie, I'd have to see
That film is Blumenthal, a very funny
look at an Upper West Side of Manhattan
Jewish family and its search for, if not per-
fection, something better.
It centers on the relatives of Harold
Blumenthal (Brian Cox), a successful
playwright who died laughing at one of
his jokes. His survivors: a younger and
jealous brother, Saul (Mark Blum); Saul's
wife, Cheryl (Laila Robins); and their son,
Ethan (writer/director Fisher).
April 17 • 2014
Saul grapples with his angst, Cheryl
with aging and Ethan with finding the
perfect, perhaps Jewish, woman.
Fisher avoids a common failure of first-
time directors: self-indulgence. But in the
process, his intent is somewhat obfuscat-
ed. The film, he explained in a telephone
interview, doesn't necessarily come with a
point of view.
"I like to say it was more what I was
trying to explore than what I was trying
to say," said Fisher. "I was interested in
exploring people in different stages of
their lives across gender in this period of
"They all seem to be prone to looking
at their lives and asking, 'Is this enough?
Could I have more? And could I be better
off? And all of this is at the expense of
living in the present."
The story came in large measure from
Fisher's experience in the theater — and
"I worked as an actor in the New York
theater scene and was lucky enough to
work with some pretty recognizable and
Every day, family would show up,
and I started wondering what it would
be like to be Arthur
brother. (Not that I
worked with Arthur
Miller.) Or what
would it be like to
be Steven Spielberg's
nephew, to have the
name but not the tal-
ent. So that was the
"Also, I had char-
acters similar to
Cheryl and Ethan in
short films I've done.
I wanted to explore
them more. Saul's story is really a broth-
er's story. I have an older brother who is
very successful. So, in part, this is drawn
from my own experience, although it's
worth stating that my brother is not a
writer. He's a venture capitalist in Israel."
Ironically, Fisher wasn't thinking
Jewish when he conceived the story; it
just kind of happened.
"I just did a Q&A at a Jewish film
festival where someone asked me if
this was a Jewish movie. I didn't see the
movie in that light, but now the logic
A scene from Blumenthal
of it crosses my mind. I think Jews are
questioning people. It's a very Jewish
thing to question everything: success,
failure, how you look. ❑
Blumenthal screens at 5 p.m.
Wednesday, April 30, at the Berman
Center in West Bloomfield; at 5 p.m.
Tuesday, May 6, at the Michigan
Theater in Ann Arbor; and at 7
p.m. Thursday, April 24, at the Flint
Institute of Arts in Flint.