The 1938 black-and-white Yiddish film “Mamele” hits the big screen again 80 years after its debut, but this time with English subtitles.
“Little Mother,” as it’s known in English, owes the subtitles to the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University.
Actress Molly Picon plays Havche, who has taken on the role of caring for her siblings and her shady “businessman” father in the absence of a mother in their home in Lodz, Poland. This task proves to be more than a full-time job as she struggles to peddle goods on the tough streets for fair prices and to make sure her brothers are happily finding love and that her sisters are finding their ways to future family and financial stability, all while neglecting her own happiness.
The funny and quirky screenplay that showcases Picon’s singing abilities and comedic talent also depicts many aspects of Polish life in the late 1930s. “Mamele” was the last Yiddish film made before the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939.
The new English subtitles are the one negative of the film. In some scenes where the lower portion of the screen images are very light, the white font of the subtitles is nearly impossible to read. There are also short scenes for which there are no subtitles.
But for all the non-Yiddish-speaking generations who have only heard stories of “Mamele” and never seen it on the big screen with any sort of “helper text” for an English understanding, in an age when excerpts are likely to be on the Internet, now is the time to catch a glimpse at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screening: Feb. 4, 11 a.m., Springs)