This humorous but informative documentary accompanies four 12-year-olds—Sharon, Tom, Moishy, and Sophie—as they prepare for their bar or bat mitzvah, the traditional coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish children.
Sophie has an elaborate celebration with friends and family. Tom, the son of an Israeli mother and an Austrian father, journeys to Jerusalem, where he lays and fastens the tefilin for the first time at the Wailing Wall. Moishy is ushered into adulthood according to the strict laws of Orthodox Judaism.
Sharon, the son of Georgian parents with Sephardic roots, has chosen "Zorro" as the theme of his bar mitzvah party. His parents hire André Wanne, a Jewish video specialist, to create a mini-movie in which their son dons the costume of the pop-culture hero, complete with mask, cape and sword, rides and jumps off a horse, and engages in a fencing duel.
ZORRO'S BAR MITZVAH features interviews with the children and their parents, who explain the meaning of the Jewish ceremonies and the importance of religious tradition in their lives. We also witness the preparations and rehearsals for the religious ceremonies, with anxious coaching by parents and rabbis, as well as the later celebratory parties, which, in the case of "Zorro," has all the trappings of a Las Vegas stage show.
Excerpts from André's videos and his editing room commentary are interspersed throughout ZORRO'S BAR MITZVAH, lending a sense of irony to the proceedings. The film likewise takes an ambivalent view of Jewish tradition and its interpretations, questions the significance of initiation rites in general, reveals the differences in the status of the sexes within Orthodox Judaism, shows the diffuse separation between religious and secular worlds, and wonders whether religion can serve as a contemporary medium for these social ceremonies.
ZORRO'S BAR MITZVAH is also a poignant picture of the end of childhood, one that succeeds, because the heartfelt emotion finally cuts through all the schmaltz, as a charming account of this symbolic opportunity to foster ties between the generations. Mazel tov!
"Wry, often hilarious, and unexpectedly moving... A fascinating mosaic of Jewish life."—Film Society of Lincoln Center
2006 Berlin International Film Festival
2006 Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival
2006 Cinema du Reel
"Blends healthy irony with bemused respect."—Variety
"An interesting sociological study... recommended for libraries whose patrons are interested in how different Jewish cultures celebrate life cycle events. It may also be interesting to those planning bar and bat mitzvahs."—Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
"A masterful cinematic documentary... a delightful snapshot of Jewish life."—Jewish Journal
"Fascinating in the deft and humorous way it raises its central question: Is the ceremony one of excess and show, or is it meaningful?... This multilayered film (made in Austria and Israel) bears repeated viewings. General audiences will enjoy it; a definite discussion starter in academic/religion settings."Library Journal