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When was the last time you entered a movie theater and really left your life on the street outside the theater? This was impressively the case for me at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival's opening night screening for the movie gem, Putzel. Putzel has just been awarded Best Picture Winner at the Phoenix Film Festival, and I can see why. If movies are a drug, this film is a very happy pill!
Some of you know what the word, "putzel", signifies, but for you non-kosher types, "putz" is slang for small penis. This is the name our leading character goes by, and his story lets us see, from the inside out, how the putz becomes a prince.
Putzel's emotional journey is centered in the Upper West side of Manhattan, arguably one of the emotionally warmest places on the planet.
Likewise, the film is imbued with warmth; an endless waft of freshly-baked bagels. A movie crafted with wisdom about the pain and joy of living, while offering no hint of synthetic gooey sentiment.
It is edgy, (particularly one sex scene with copious amount of salmon), and moving; a witty story of real life disappointments, self-limitations, and courage.
Every character is in 3-D, no reaching at all for funny or, in fact, the distraction of cell phones. (Oy, what a gift is that).
The characters sing out and you will believe you are standing in the room with them all. Other people have described the timid, awkward, endearing character of Putzel as a young Woody Allen, but I think there is a separate originality at work here in the writing and acting. Putzel, aka Walter, has a thoroughly unshellacked charm that our world seems to be aching for; a character who at once melts the heart and disables the judging mind.
It seems we contemporary cynics are no longer prepared to be swept away by gentle warmth and feeling-infused story in films. This is exactly the importance of movies: to lift the spirit through shared feeling and experience. To breathe the relief of connection with our lives and other people, at least in the dark! How we miss this easy laughter and feeling in the majority of contemporary films.
I believe we are more than ever in need of movies with no dizzying computerized visuals, no strained indication for the cheap laugh and no transparent strategic manipulation for laughs and tears. Such original, brave, alive films that exist in the raw are nearly extinct, save for the incomparable above-mentioned Woody Allen, and a few other examples, such as the newly arrived Putzel. While I stand to be debated on this, if there is such an empty state of feeling and depthful relatedness in popular films today, is it any wonder when these same qualities of vulnerability, emotional courage, and deeply felt connection are no longer valued in society? As we watch Putzel shed his phobic, fearful small-life self, what began with a tight, small ensemble cast telling a small story about a handful of interwoven relationships, becomes an enlarged symbolic direction for life, itself.
Yes, there is more to life than we habitually choose for ourselves. Yes, we can make magical changes and accept life's surprising blessings with open arms. Yes, a beautiful, moving, funny movie can be made for under $200,000. (!!!!)
No, I haven't narrated the story for you. IMDb does a good job of that. (See IMDb.com/putzel) However, if you can bear being delightfully surprised, skip the written reviews which outline the story, and just go see it for yourself. There isn't a false note in any of the cast's work. These stellar performers include: Jack Carpenter, Melanie Lynsky, John Pankow, Susie Essman, Jarlath Conroy, Armando Riesco, Allegra Cohen, Steve Park, Adrian Martinez, Fred Berman, Fran Kranz, Ashley Austin Morris, Sondra James, Elizabeth Masucci, and Michael Perilstein.
My only complaint is that there isn't more of the brilliant Susie Essman in this movie, although her presence is a bright light on this screen. Now there's a funny woman, and as you will see, a serious actress.