Go For Zucker


Posted to www.marxmail.org on January 10, 2006


Scheduled for release in NYC on January 20, “Go For Zucker” (Alles auf Zucker!) is a genial farce with aspirations to a level of political satire that it generally fails to reach. However, this story of two middle-aged and long-lost German brothers--one a nonobservant and dissolute “Ostie” who lives in Berlin and the other an orthodox Jew from Frankfurt--is well worth seeing.


When Jaeckie Zucker (Henry Hübchen) receives news of his mother’s death, it could not come at a more inconvenient time. He is all set to participate in a billiards tournament for a 100,000 Euro top prize. That money will help to pay off his gambling debts and to keep his shady nightclub--that has all the appearances of a brothel--in business.


His mother has left instructions to be mourned and buried in Berlin. Furthermore, her will stipulates that unless Jaeckie reconciles with his brother Samuel Zuckerman (Udo Samuel) who he has nicknamed the "ayatollah", her estate will be left to a synagogue in Berlin. Additionally, she demands that Jaeckie follow Jewish rituals during a 7 day mourning period, called ‘shivah’, the Hebrew word for seven. Although Jaeckie, a resolute communist despite his wastrel ways, has bitter contempt for religion of any sort, he is pressured by his wife into respecting his mother’s wishes. Although she is a gentile, Marlene (Hannelore Eisner) looks forward to satisfying Jewish customs in her household. To some extent, she is inclined to put a plus wherever her husband puts a minus. Indeed, just before they have received word of his mother’s death, Marlene has decided to throw Jaeckie out.


Since Jaeckie is only expecting his brother, he is chagrined to discover that Samuel arrives at the airport with the entire mispochah (family). This includes his wife, daughter and son Joshua who wears a broad-brimmed hat, black suit, long beard and a permanent glower on his face. By contrast, Jaeckie’s son Thomas, who is about the same age as Joshua, is a clean-shaven yuppie. As the two parties gaze in stupefaction at each other, the audience quite rightly expects the film to unfold as a series of comic contradictions.


On this front, the film is completely successful. In many ways, it satisfies in the same way that the HBO comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” does. Writer and lead character (who plays himself) Larry David has mined Jewish identity for both comic material and social commentary. Dani Levy, the Swiss Jewish director and screenwriter of “Go For Zucker” who probably is unfamiliar with David’s work, has made a film that covers the same sort of terrain. In the latest season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David decides to hold a Passover seder at his house but scandalizes his guests by inviting a sex offender who has moved to the neighborhood. This is Larry's way of showing gratitude for the sex offender showing him a new golf swing.


When Larry tries somewhat unsuccessfully to convince his guests that forgiveness is an important Jewish value, he is in the same boat as Jaeckie who gets caught sneaking off to the billiards tournament during shivah. He tries to persuade Joshua, who has been put in charge of making sure that the mother's will is honored, that it is a mitzvah to win money that will keep his barmaids employed.  The parts of the film that are devoted to such ploys tend to the cheap gag, which it should be said might satisfy conventional audience expectations. “Go For Zucker” played for 44 consecutive weeks in Germany and 15 in Israel. The production notes indicate that the film was the highest grossing German-ethnic film to date. Since one cannot be sure how many other films can be categorized in this genre, it is difficult to gauge the film’s achievement. Suffice it to say that it is genuinely entertaining.


The film is also an important document as a contribution to the return of Jews to Germany, including Dani Levy himself who states in an interview that is part of the production notes:


“A lot of Jewish families returned to Germany after the end of the Nazi regime. Despite the catastrophic history and the enormous scale of destruction, they retained their sense of homeland here. My mother was born and raised in Berlin. In 1939, at the age of 12, she fled Germany with her father. The fact that I returned to Berlin 40 years later, that I established myself here in manifold fashion, is an irony of my family history.”


Although Levy does not mention it, it might occur to some that the ongoing tragedy of both the Jewish and Palestinian people might have been spared if a similar decision had been made by Jewish survivors of the Nazi holocaust. Germany was not the enemy of the Jews; a capitalist system in crisis was.