Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog – A Review By Susan Kandell

 

Shepherded through difficult times

Film review by Susan Kandell

W.C. Fields was once quoted as saying, ”Never work with children or animals.” He was, of course, referring to child actors and animals in a film setting and it inferred that they would steal the scene. He was absolutely right; that’s exactly what the children and animals in Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog accomplish.

Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog, written and directed by Lynn Roth (The Little Traitor) is a bittersweet, extraordinary account depicting the horrors of the Holocaust from the unique perspective of a dog named Kaleb. It opens in Germany in the ’30’s and gives a glimpse into the life of a Jewish family before the Nuremberg Laws were enacted. One by one, the rights of Jews are revoked; including the ownership of pets. Kaleb, (which is the Hebrew name for dog but can also mean “brave”), is placed with another family, breaking the heart of Joshua (brilliant played by 10 year old August Maturo). The scene where he patiently waits for Joshua’s family to return is truly heartbreaking.

Kaleb runs away from his new family (with good reason!) and becomes a street dog who is eventually taken captive by an SS officer (Ken Duken) and trained to frighten and seize Jews. Kaleb – now named Blix – and Joshua are unexpectedly reunited in a concentration camp and with the help of other prisoners, plot their harrowing escape.

The film is based on the the best-selling novel “The Jewish Dog” by Israeli author Asher Kravitz. Roth was teaching a class in Tel Aviv in which students learned to “pitch” ideas for cultural projects. One of the students apprised her of a book written by a friend about a Jewish dog. Roth was smitten with the concept and knew she would spend the next 5 or so years of her life working to adapt the book for the big screen.

At the Sedona International Film Festival, she confirmed that the book was not based on a true story, however it was based on incidences that occurred at the time. Roth did extensive research at the Shoah Foundation about the Nuremberg Laws and how they impacted everyday life. She thought this storyline about loyalty and courage could reach a wide audience. Her hope is that the film will be seen outside the Jewish community and used as a tool to teach about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

If this sounds too somber, the film is not without charm and humor. During a Passover seder, Joshua conceives of a brilliant way to find the afikomen in which brisket plays an important role. Later in the film, there is a poignant scene where a forlorn Joshua conducts another seder all by himself; cue the tissues.

I am hesitant to recommend this to families of young children. But as Roth predicted, it would appeal to many ages and was the winner of the audience award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2019 Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. And for those who are reticent about watching a movie with subtitles, this one is in English.

3 Stars Jewish Cinema will screen the film during its theatrical run at the Angelika Film Center in Plano, followed by a zoom featuring writer/director Lynn Roth who will be joining them from Los Angeles. The date is Wednesday, June 2nd at 6:45pm. Check 3 Stars webpage: www.3starscinema.com for tickets for non-members.

Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog opens exclusively at the Angelika Film Center of Plano on Friday, May 28th.

Language: English

Runtime: 94 minutes

Rated: Unrated, but I would rate it at PG-13 for disturbing images, violence (especially involving children)

 

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