Mordecai Richler: The Last of the Wild Jews

Mordecai Richler was a Jewish Canadian author and essayist, infamous for being bullish, outspoken, and constantly accompanied by a cigar and a glass of scotch.

Born in the Jewish St. Urbain neighbourhood of Montreal, Richler openly criticised Quebecois nationalism and Canadian nationalism, as well as elements of his own Jewish background and upbringing.

The documentary Mordecai Richler: The Last of the Wild Jews received it’s UK premiere at the UK Jewish Film Festival, coupled with The Street, a short film based on one of Richler’s short stories, directed by Caroline Leaf.

Mordecai Richler recounts Richler’s life and his work, giving the audience a valuable insight into his character and the world which he inhabited. It also gave a snapshot of his family life, showing us the husband and father behind the camera and the perpetual rage and unflinching conviction, owing to his moniker.

 

In giving a portrait of Richler, director Francine Pelletier gives a rich social and political portrait of North America too. As a Jew, Richler felt discriminated against by both English and French speaking Canadians, and American’s alike. His mission was to shake up the post-war status quo, and on his way he became one of the most outstanding Canadian literary writers of his generation.

 

Pelletier takes us through Richler’s life chronologically, including footage of a young Richler, interviews, TV spots, and talking heads from his friends and family. This gives us a personal, close up and authentic-feeling take on his life. Though Pelletier is always on the side of Richler, she does include some negativity about him too, including him being trounced in a TV debate about Quebec nationalism and the rise of Quebecois separatist politics.

She examines the wave of American Jewish writers too, including Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Woody Allen and Philip Roth, and the energy that swept across North America like “uncorked champagne”, and what that assimilation into mainstream culture means for the preservation of Jewish, Yiddish in particular, culture in more recent times.

 

More than a documentary about just one man, Mordecai Richler is a conduit into a complex social and political landscape, illuminating the rest of the UK Jewish Film Festival for audiences who may not be aware of the importance of this Jewish literary figurehead.

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