22 October 2012

Fiddler on the Roof (starring Topol)

About eight years ago, when we started collecting DVDs, 'Fiddler on the Roof' was on special offer.  I knew it was a classic, one of those musicals where I knew some of the songs, and had a vague idea of the storyline. I'm pretty sure I saw a stage version - maybe done at a school - when I was a teenager, but I had never seen the 1971 film production.

It's the story of a Jewish family living in Tzarist Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. Tevye, the star and narrator, is brilliantly portrayed by Topol; he's a likeable middle-aged peasant who has been married for twenty-five years and has five daughters.

Teyve pledges his oldest daughter to be married to the local widowed butcher who is wealthy, but not at all young or handsome. To his horror, his daughter pleads to be married instead to her childhood sweetheart. Teyve loves her, and wants her to be happy, so he agrees somewhat reluctantly… not realising the irony in that in marrying a nice Jewish boy whom he likes, she is being far more traditional than her younger sisters will prove to be...

For tradition is at the heart of the culture. The opening song glorifies the importance of tradition, which is how Teyve was raised, and how he expects his future to continue. Yet young people - most of all his daughters - are starting to query it. Concepts such as love are alien to Teyve; in the song quoted in 'love language' books, his wife lists the things she does for him, but is also a bit puzzled by the concept of love itself.

Teyve is a caring person, and is usually willing to listen;  sometimes he will change his viewpoint too, often in conjunction with a quick chat with God. This is done in a style that works well as little asides, as if he is thinking aloud, pondering the pros and cons of various options while his companions of the time are temporarily frozen.

'Fiddler on the Roof' is a long film, nearly three hours in all. The musical style, even the songs themselves seem old fashioned at times, yet the choreography is excellent, and the scenery gorgeous. The Russian army, eventually driving the Jews out, are shown in historical context, making this useful from a social history point of view, and overall there’s much to think about. At the end, which was almost too abrupt, seeing Teyve himself having to depart from his beloved tradition for many reasons, I found myself wishing it could be longer.


Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

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