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    Sofa from home

    A Brooklyn woman uses the quest for a legendary divan to explore her Jewish family's past in Hungary, in the documentary "Divan."


    Filmmaker Pearl Gluck, a self-proclaimed family outcast, went to Hungary in search of her roots — and a couch. She found both — sort of — and "Divan," her first documentary feature, is the story of this physical and emotional journey. A sage and impressive work, it is at once deeply personal — without sinking into self-indulgence — and wholeheartedly universal.

    Directed by: Pearl Gluck.
    Written by: Pearl Gluck, Zelda Greenstein.
    Cinematography: William Tyler Smith, Mattias Erdely, Pearl Gluck, Leon Grodski.
    Edited by: Zelda Greenstein.

    Related links: Official site
    Film Forum 209 West Houston St. (between 6th and 7th Ave.) (212) 727-8100

    Born into Brooklyn's Hasidic Jewish community in 1972 — a world she and her mother would eventually abandon — Gluck grew up hearing about her great-great-grandfather's legendary divan, revered because generations of rebbes slept on it. When she went to Hungary to obtain oral histories of the area's Yiddish-speaking population on a Fulbright scholarship, her trip took on a secondary purpose. Gluck became determined — obsessed, actually — to retrieve the couch to please her ultra-conservative father, who doesn't approve of her lifestyle, career choice or even this film.

    The object of her fixation is a small dark-wood, high-back couch, covered in a gold and burgundy pattern that today you'd more likely find on a carpet than a piece of furniture. As Gluck, a thoughtful-looking frizzy-haired woman whose glasses give her a scholarly appearance, glimpses at her family history, she encounters relatives still living in Hungary, including a cousin who left the sect to join the Communist party, and the remnants of pre-Holocaust Jewish life. And she finds ways to get what she wants, though not exactly as she'd planned.

    This all may sound extremely heavy, but it's actually poignant and fun. Gluck narrates the film with a touch of Carrie Bradshaw irreverence, yet she's respectful of the community she was born into, even when they aren't of her. A couple of the men complain about her short sleeves and untamed hair, and on a bus trip with 23 Hasidic men and one other woman, Gluck has to sit in the back and rely on her father to bring her food.

    Woven into the fabric (pun intended) of this film are "couch" interviews with 10 fellow "outcasts," Hasidic and Orthodox men and women who also relinquished their faith. Their love for their families and the childhoods they cherish as a time of innocence (one person describes his as a Garden of Eden) reveal an affection for tradition mingled with strong self-determination.

    Gluck brings these bittersweet stories enchantingly to life, showing that with a little creativity we can make peace with the past as we fashion our future.

    MARCH 22, 2004

    Reader comments on Divan:

  • Divan   from Barbara Super, Mar 5, 2006

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