The 2004 film, “Alles auf Zucker” is a German work that engages with social issues such as religion, family loyalty and identity through the use of comedy. The film was directed by Dani Levy and is situated in modern Berlin. Levy’s work portrays two brothers and their families, who after many years of severed contact are united by the death of their mother. Jackie Zucker is a pool shark and a secular Jew who lives in Berlin with his estranged family while his brother, Samuel Zuckerman, lives an orthodox Jewish life with his family in Frankfort. The lives of both families are overturned by their deceased mother’s stipulation that to receive their inheritance, the two brothers must sit shiva and reconcile their differences. The resulting turmoil forms the basis of the comedy film. In this review, I will focus on the issues of modern Jewish identity in Germany, particularly how it is informed by the lingering repercussions of history, and the universal struggle of finding oneself despite the input of others.
The focus on modern Jewish identity brings into question what it means to be Jewish and what the benefits and drawbacks are of subscribing to a single identity. The director first sets up identity in terms of religion with Zucker denying a connection to his Jewish roots. He states “if that [my name] sounds Jewish to you, you are mistaken.” Given the trauma of being abandoned by his Jewish family at a young age, and the drawbacks of identifying as Jewish in socialist East Germany, Zucker spent most of his life distancing himself from that part of his identity. At the time of reunification, there were just over 200 Jews living in East Berlin, which made it much easier for Zucker to adopt his superstar reporter persona than a Jewish one.
In contrast, upon learning about her mother-in-law’s stipulations, Zucker’s wife tries to “purchase” a Jewish identity by buying 435 Euros worth of Jewish goods. This scene reminded me of the article “The Hype over the Star of David” which discusses the phenomenon of people wanting to subscribe to Jewish culture in an easily consumable form. The wife attempts to make up for her families lack of knowledge and experience with Judaism through her purchasing power. The scene is portrayed using a panning camera angle and fast tempo Hebrew music that makes the audience feel rushed and overwhelmed. This is important because it mirrors the feeling of being lost when trying to fully adopt a new culture and religion in a short period of time. The scene ends with the shopkeeper humorously stating that “it is never to late to become Jewish.” In this more consumerist view, religious identity is packaged as good be obtained, but also raises questions as to the success of such acquisition.
With yet a different approach to identity, Jacky’s brother’s wife critiques Zucker’s family, saying that the wife is a goy (non Jew), that the son is gay, and that the daughter is not around. In doing so, she uses her schema of what it means to be a Jew to judge how “Jewish” the Zuckers are. This brings up the question we have discussed in class in terms of what determines ones identity: is it something you are born with, something you can buy or something that others ascribe to you? This concept of identity is further explored through the use of narrative voice throughout the film. Jackie is able to use this voice to both enhance, and in some places contradict, what the film visually portrays. This is seen in the last scene where Zucker is talking about his reformed habits, yet the audience sees him back in the pool hall, clearly back to his old ways. The use of narrative voice adds complexity and depth to questions of identity, in that what the audience sees does not align with what they hear (even if its what they would like to hear). This brings into question what or who one changes their identity for, and if such alterations are possible. The topic of Jewish identity in Alles auf Zucker was portrayed in contrasting ways throughout the film, allowing the audience to play with complex issues, while still enjoying the lighthearted nature of comedy.