Refusenik opens on the 60th birthday of Israel, a country whose existence has inextricably informed, as one interviewee says, “What it means to be a Jewish people.” But as a celebration of Israel, Laura Bialis’s documentary about Russian Jews is bittersweet at best, because it is seen from the eyes of a group that for years has watched its development from the sidelines. From the 1917 revolution that promised freedom but quickly turned into oppression through the years of the Iron Curtain, Bialis exhaustively researches the history of Russia’s Jews, recalling the stories of people who spent their lives looking for a place to fit in. The movie is titled after a colloquial term for Soviet Jews who applied for an exit visa but were refused, leaving them vulnerable to the state as well as landlords, bosses and neighbors. When they were denied their old careers and imprisoned for years, the issue invited global controversy, kick-starting the political negotiations of Washington and eventually opening the gates of a mass exodus to Israel, America and no doubt elsewhere. Using title cards, interviews and endless archival footage, Bialis is able to tie a very specific history to the course of 20th century upheaval—the restless young Jews won their own freedom at the same time a new generation tore down the Berlin Wall representing Germany’s broken identity. Ringing with spooky familiarity to Cuban immigrants here in the States, Refusenik is the less artful European equivalent to Balseros, giving voice to people who previously had none.
- Abramorama Entertainment
- 120 min
- Laura Bialis
- Laura Bialis
- Vladimir Slepak, Valery Panov, Elie Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz, George Shultz, Mikhail Gorbachev
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