Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2021: Our Review of ‘The Un-Word’

Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2021: Our Review of ‘The Un-Word’

In The Un-Word, Valerie and Simon Berlinger (Ursina Lardi and Thomas Sarbacher) are a Jewish couple who are called into their son’s school after he’s involved in an altercation with an Iranian and a Palestinian student. Valerie and Simon sit in conference with the school’s principal Director Stege (Devid Striesow) and his well-meaning teacher, Ms. Ritter (Anna Bruggemann). And they demand fairness for their son. Meanwhile, they expose the subtle (and not-so-subtle) injustices that are taking place within the school’s walls.

Written and directed by Leo Khasin, Un-Word contains some solid satirical work that attempts to navigate the complexities and challenges that undergird modern racism. Valerie and Simon endure their parent-teacher interaction. So too do they uncover the numerous underlying issues of racism that have infested their son’s school culture. In this school, ‘peace’ quickly becomes a synonym for ‘ignorance’, as hurt and blame go neglected by its leadership. Director Stege refuses to properly address the bullying that has taken place. He even locks the Jewish children away ‘for their protection’. In doing so he reveals his own fears and biases of dealing with the pain of deeper issues of race. (Even Ms. Ritter’s misguided attempt to offer proper snacks for the meeting demonstrates her own lack of cultural understanding.)

However, while the film does an excellent job of delving into the poison of intolerance, the film suffers due to its narrative style. Though Un-Word tries to mix up its storytelling, it does spend a great deal of its runtime simply sitting in a room offering exposition. Kashin remains in a singular location for so much time. Thus, he ultimately slows the film down too much to fully engage the audience. As such, despite its potential, The Un-Word’s static structure means that the film ultimately underachieves.

 

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Born at a very early age, Steve is a Toronto-based writer and podcaster who loves to listen to what matters to our culture on screen. When he first saw Indiana Jones steal the cross of Coronado, he knew his world would never be the same and, since then, he’s found more and more excuses to digest what’s in front of him onscreen. Also, having worked as a youth and community minister for almost 20 years, he learned that stories help everyone engage the world around them. He’s a proud hubby, father (x2) and believes that Citizen Kane, Batman Forever (yes, the Kilmer one), and The Social Network belong in the same conversation. You can hear his ramblings on ScreenFish Radio wherever podcasts are gettable or at his website, ScreenFish.net.
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