“The History of Love” starts as a fairy tale somewhere in a country village in Europe where anything is possible and life is good.
A boy and girl fall in love, but the coming German army creates havoc. They must part with their families to find refuge. They trade promises of reunion and letter writing.
Several years pass, and when Leo finds Alma in New York, she is married. She explains that he had stopped writing, and she had delivered his baby and needed refuge. Alma has saved Leo’s letters and stories.
Leo has written a book based on their love and sent it to a childhood friend living in South America. His friend copies and destroys Leo’s manuscript, then publishes it in Spanish under his own name.
A simultaneous story follows a teenage girl whose father’s death has left the family devastated. Her mother smokes and gardens. Her 10-year-old brother has become observant and believes that he is one of the 36 lamedvavnikim (righteous people) who have the potential to save the world. The teen girl, who has become the “parent,” is afraid of falling in love and has a personal mission of finding a suitor for her mother.
Her mother is asked to translate “The History of Love” from Spanish into English. The mother is ecstatic because she is familiar with the book and named her daughter, Alma, after the book’s “most loved woman” character. Thus begins the attempt to tie the stories together.
Derek Jacobi and Elliott Gould, both excellent actors, over-dramatize as two old Jewish men, making them at times look like buffoons. As the old Leo, Jacobi is clumsy and silly and not anything like the young Leo, who was serious and charming.
The story within a story within a story is confusing, involving flashbacks and a timeline that is nearly impossible to follow. The Jewish theme does not work, and the story might have been better explained without it.
The viewer is presented with fragments that never come together to provide adequate content and sentiment. The sound and music overpower the dialogue.
What starts out as a fairy tale for the characters ends up as a nightmare for the viewer.
(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Jan. 28, 7 p.m., Hollywood; Jan. 29, 7:50 p.m., Perimeter Pointe; Jan. 31, 11:15 a.m., Hollywood; Feb. 4, 4:50 p.m., Tara, and 7:05 p.m., Atlantic Station)