In my humble, (sic), snobby opinion, this documentary is a perfect example of the treasures offered by film festivals: a movie you’ve never heard of, the privilege of witnessing the lives of strangers whose experience will enhance your own.
There’s no plot, no agenda, no suspense; it’s just a slice of life that unfolds before you slowly and deliciously, like the way Milky Way candy bar commercials slowly drip caramel in slow-motion.
While especially sentimental for anyone lucky enough to have had a Jewish grandma, one need not be Jewish to enjoy it.
Oma is the name the filmmaker calls Regina Kardinski who is her grandmother. Regina was born in 1927 in Katavice, Poland. Bella, her best friend was born in Vilnius, Lithuania in 1923. They are both survivors of the Holocaust who have lived in Berlin for close to sixty years.
However, this is not a movie about the Holocaust. Nor is this a movie about Jewish cooking, which could be debated. This is a movie about the resilience of the human spirit and the beauty of friendship.
Bella moved in with Regina to help her recover from hip surgery several years ago and has never moved out. She still keeps her own apartment, which she visits once a week. Bella says she is repaying the debt of Regina’s grandmother taking care of her during the war. That may be true. More true is that these women enjoy and need the company of the other.
Bella brags that all their other friends are jealous of their tight bond. I am. I completely understand why Bella is willing to live with less closet space. Some of their contemporaries who live alone are unable to share the memories that still haunt them.
The women spend much of their time cooking. Bella says she needs to keep her hands active so they won’t atrophy. That may be true. But in an early scene in the movie, she says she has never stopped eating Jewish (i.e. Kosher), that cooking reminds her of home which she never wants to forget.
At first, in seems incongruous that these women who suffered such horror at the hands of Germans can live such a peaceful, enjoyable life in that country. Then, I began to realize how wonderful it is that they can.
The scenes in which the women recall the horrors of their early lives are few but poignant, with details I’ve never heard before in all the testimonies I’ve seen and read.
At one point, Regina admonishes the young Alexa, as only a close family member can, that she would never have survived that time. Insulted and surprised she asks why. “Because you are too sensitive. You had to forget sensitivity. You had to forget being offended. You had to forget what was happening to you.”
Ouch. Because she’s right.
My favorite moment in this movie, apart from the Pucci-clad ladies hosting an elegant Shabbat dinner, is when Oma tells Alexa that she shouldn’t care about looks in a man. Bella shoots back, “That’s because you had the best looking one!” Oma doesn’t reply, but grins like a Cheshire Cat.
Oma & Bella is only screening once at the festival, buy your tickets now.
Since I fully expect this showing to sell out, and I understand that not everyone is lucky enough to be in St. Louis at this moment, Oma & Bella can be seen online.
For those who become hungry after seeing the movie, you can buy their cookbook.
*This movie was made with funds raised from Kickstarter. Consider that a bonus inspiration.