Schmaltzy, yes; meaningful, yes.
The Atlanta premiere documentary “Flory’s Flame” traces the ancestry of 90-year-old Flory Jagoda, who takes us back to the Jewish exile from Spain in the 15th century via her Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) tunes in combination with the whole mishpachah accompanying on mandolins, guitars or whatever they can lay their hands on.
Flory’s family immigrated to Yugoslavia, where they socialized with Muslim neighbors.
She was a raving beauty who along with 300 other brides found her U.S. soldier, Harry. As he tells it, he thought he was having a date with a local gal when he spotted the Jewish prayer book in Flory’s living room. “I felt I’d struck gold,” he says.
Flory had a wedding gown fashioned out of parachute fabric — beautiful nonetheless. The photographs along the journey are authentic and juxtaposed with maps of the expulsion from Spain. Note that two-thirds of the exiles went to Turkey.
The physical and spiritual beauty of Flory is the backbone of the film as she raises her children (now adults) with tunes of the old country. They are all charismatic and beat to her strum as the central aura.
The highlight comes when the king of Spain invites them back to perform and apologizes for the way the Jews were treated during the Inquisition. The question was posed whether the royals understood the Ladino-styled Spanish. The answer: “Yes, but it’s like you listening to old Shakespeare.”
The music sounds mostly Spanish (Mi Madre) laced with Yiddish. The themes are basic — “Don’t Fall in Love Under the Moonlight” and “How to Greet Your Father-in-Law.” The countdown, “eight candles, seven candles, six candles,” was a bit basic and when repeated became more like “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
“Flory’s Flame” tells us about love of family. As Flory mentors other types of master musicians in America, a Russian artist says, “Flory reminds us of tunes from the ancient Temple. … Masterful in style, a born bard and minstrel.”
We should all be that beautiful and razor-sharp at 90.