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Train of Life

French, with subtitles
Starring Lionel Abelanski, Rufus, Clement Harari, Michel Muller and Bruno Abraham-Kremor
Written and Directed by Radu Mihaileanu
Train of Life website

IN SHORT: Fiddler in a different setting. [Rated [R], 103 minutes]

I think it may be something programmed into our genetic code after a millennium of persecution, but we Members of the Tribe always try to find some kind of humor in the most devastating of circumstances. So here comes a French language flick called Train of Life, in which a small community of Eastern European Jews, hearing that Nazi occupation of their town is imminent, do like the Romans do . . .

. . . That song reference is so ancient I only know it from re-runs of I Love Lucy . . .

The Jews of this unnamed community sell everything and buy a train, bit by bit. They bring in distant cousins to teach them how to speak German without a Yiddish accent. They dress the best students up as Nazi soldiers, pack everybody else up in box cars and head for the Russian border.

It's a ludicrous, impossible idea, but we're renowned for that, so go with it. True, the "Wise Men" of the town all have beards and dark coats but the youngsters have ideas of their own. So while Mordechai the Wood Merchant (Rufus) endures the guilt of masquerading as the Nazi Officer in charge of the train, his son Sammy has eyes for the lovely Esther (Agathe de la Fontaine), who does not want to end her life as an unwed virgin. Bringing up the rear is Yossi, whom Esther has rejected and who preaches for a Communist overthrow of the train's management.

This is kind of like dropping the image of the Jewish shtetl from Fiddler on the Roof into a Europe controlled by Nazis instead of the Czar, only with broader characters. Watching Train of Life was like watching my grandparents and their friends, the ones who got the hell out of Europe early on, arguing over peppermint schnapps and tea. It's a world totally alien to an American born and raised Jew and watching this film is almost gives me the feeling that I'm looking at stereotypes . . . except for what I said about my grandparents' generation. The only thing about the production that threw me is that everyone in this East European town speaks French. That's probably not something that should distract you while you're reading subtitles, but it did.

And, yes, there are at least two run-ins with "real" Nazis and both of 'em lead to big surprises. Of course, we Jews don't think we're particularly funny to the Gentiles, so Cranky's gonna split the baby on this one...

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Train of Life, he would have paid...


...which is our "wait for pay per view" level. I enjoyed Train of Life. Though I am sensitive to where my people came from, and that 50 year difference feels like a hundred and fifty, it's a safe bet that if you enjoyed Fiddler on the Roof, you'll not be disappointed by Train of Life.

The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is  Copyright © 1995  -  2013 by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.