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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Aug. 16, 2012 | 11:54 PM

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“If you will it, Dude, it is no dream,” says Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) in the Coen Brothers’ THE BIG LEBOWSKI.  This may seem like a frivolous lead in to a review of a documentary about the founder of the modern state of Israel, but it bears repeating.  Not ones to plagiarize,  the Coens make sure Walter properly credits the slightly paraphrased line to Theodore Herzl,  the founder of the modern Zionist movement.  Herzl was unable to will his dream into reality within his lifetime, but Director Richard Trank’s new film demonstrates how Israel couldn’t have existed without him.

IT IS NO DREAM attempts to inform the public about the origins of Israel by telling the life story of Theodore Herzl.    Telling is the operative word here, as the film features wall-to-wall voice over narration.   While it’s hard to imagine another approach for a film whose subject died in 1907, it still makes for some dry viewing at times.  The medicine goes down a little easier with Oscar winners Ben Kingsley and Christoph Waltz doing the narrating, but the visuals in the film don’t amount to much more than an endless stream of hundred year old photographs intercut with color shots of European locales where Herzl once lived.

The film is at it’s most provocative when it invites the audience to imagine just how much Herzl had to struggle in order for his notion of a Jewish state to gain currency.  Trank hooks us with stories of Herzl bribing Turkish officials in order to gain an audience with the Sultan who was in control of Palestine, and an unprecedented meeting with Kaiser Willhelm the 2nd, who couldn’t seem to make up his mind whether he agreed with Herzl’s ideas or not.    

As might be expected, Trank’s film presents Herzl in a heroic light.  Not much attention is given to what claims the Palestinians may have had to the land that was being sought for the new Jewish state.  Even more bizarre is a footnote where the British offer up Uganda, one of their colonies at the time, to Herzl as a temporary Jewish state.  Since this deal didn’t go through, we don’t get to hear what the Ugandans may have thought of this arrangement.

Overall, the film is more concerned with educating audiences about Herzl’s life than exploring specific policies. While the last two decades of violence in the Middle East make it difficult to watch this film without some political bias,  IT IS NO DREAM is an engaging portrait of a man whose big ideas are still impacting the world today.

IT IS NO DREAM opens at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills on Friday, August 17th.

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