Synopsis by Clarke Fountain
Mendel Krik (Ramaz Chkhikvadze) is Jewish and no longer young, living in Odessa in the 1920s. He has lived a full life already, surviving pogroms during which many Jews were killed, and has raised his family of sons and daughters and started them in his haulage business. Now, he wants to buy a piece of land somewhere and settle down on it with his mistress, to leave all his past behind. Meanwhile, his son Benya (Viktor Gvozditsky) is living a double life. While he still has some small connection with the moving business, most of the time he's a virtual king in Odessa's busy underworld gangs. His loyalty is to them, not to his father, his heritage, or to the authorities, so that when the region erupts in an anti-Jewish pogrom, Benya beats up his father, just as if he were not Jewish himself. This story is interwoven with images from the Biblical story of David and his son Absalom. The artifices of movie-style storytelling are cunningly revealed from time to time: the fact that the Tower of Babel is a small construction being manipulated by stagehands/actors, or the wires which control the fall of a gangster who is supposedly falling a great distance. This film is drawn from Zakat from the book Stories from Odessa by the once-popular but later purged novelist Isaak Babel. Sergei Eisenstein had wanted to shoot a film from this very same material, and this movie is the first drama dealing in any way with Jewish themes since the ban which thwarted Eisenstein. A 1989 film, Bindyuzhnik i Korol (The Drayman and the King) took this same story as the basis for a rather grim musical. The fact that both these films got produced reflects a softening of long-standing Soviet anti-Semitic attitudes.