Tevye the milkman, his stubborn, no-nonsense wife Golde, their daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava, Motel the tailor and other characters you know and love from “Fiddler on the Roof” are back, in a new way, in “Tevye’s Daughters,” a Ukrainian film (with English subtitles) that will screen at the New Jersey International Film Festival in New Brunswick, Feb. 16.
The two-hour movie is directed by Vladimir Lert and based on Gregory Gorin’s play, “Memorial Prayer” — which, like “Fiddler on the Roof,” is derived the stories of Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem.
As in “Fiddler,” the central character is Tevye (played by Evgeniy Knyazev), who lives a small Ukrainian town that is half-Jewish, half-Christian, around the turn of the 20th century. He is poor and suffers from antisemitism — the threat of cruel violence or life up-ending oppression is a daily reality — but he endures his hardships with philosophical humor. Also as in the movie, much of the plot revolves around his three old-enough-to-marry daughters falling in love with men he disapproves of, to varying degrees.
There are lots of deviations from the movie. The matchmaker is male. Some minor characters from the movie aren’t here, but others are. And, of course, there are no songs.
But the film, partially shot at the Pyrohiv Outdoor Museum — a historical museum in Ukraine that recreates early Ukranian country life — has a great sense of atmosphere; Lert knows how to frame his shots to capture the homely warmth of this rural setting. Knyazev’s Tevye is, like all great Tevyes of stage and screen, both wickedly funny and disarmingly lovable — a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with Aleichem’s timeless story.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who is an ardent fan of the “Fiddler on the Roof” musical not feeling equally strong about “Tevye’s Daughters.”
“Tevye’s Daughters” will be shown at the Voorhees Hall at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. Visit njfilmfest.com.
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