Review: It Is No Dream


With an original score of haunting premonition, this film is a careful, meticulous account of the visionary who founded the Zionist movement and inspired the creation of the state of Israel. Using photographs and some archival footage, the story of Theodor Herzl generates sympathy for the Jewish struggle.

Herzl, through the voice of actor Christoph Waltz, says in justification for searching for a safe haven for the Jewish people, “No nation on earth has survived such struggles and sufferings as we have gone through.”

Herzl, brought up in Hungary, was a visionary. He predicted in the late 1800’s a disaster for European Jews if they did not escape to a refuge away from the anti-Semitism of Europe and Russia. Considering radical options, including a mass conversion of Jews to Catholicism, Herzl’s final solution was to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

“The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is an old one. It is the restoration of the Jewish state.” These words, written in 1895 by Herzl, were met with sarcasm and disdain. Jews would respond that his idea was pure fantasy. His response, “If you will it, it is No Dream,” inspired the title of this film.

Shimon Peres, the current Israeli President, begins and ends the documentary speaking of Herzl’s faith and spirit in doggedly pursuing the creation of a homeland, “a shelter,” for the Jewish people.

Though Herzl was trained academically for a practice in law, Jews were limited in their ability to practice. Stymied, he became a playwright and, more prominently, a journalist stationed as a correspondent in Paris. Though he had not been brought up a practicing Jew, out of adult curiosity he began attending a synagogue in France.

The known aspects of his marriage to a rich industrialist’s daughter are provided and the steps he took in his growing dedication to Zionist ideals and establishing a safe haven for Jews are elaborated with impressive scholarly detail. Herzl’s attempts to get support, including beseeching the Rothschilds to buy a homeland, are couched in what seems to be an eerie premonition of the Jewish nightmare to come.

An obvious purpose of this doc is to provide for the archives a definitive biography of the founder of Israel. Though he died in 1904 at 44 years of age (close to 50 years before the 1948 UN vote to ratify Israel’s statehood), Theodore Herzl is referred as Israel’s founding father.

Referring to the Holocaust, Shimon Perez asks, “Would the six million Jews have been saved if the doors to Palestine been opened?” We know now that Britain, ruling the Palestinian territories as a “protectorate” refused to negotiate. Other countries, including the US, refused to alter strict quotas which limited Jewish immigration. The Jewish people were stranded. This meant that there was nowhere for the Jews to flee when the Nazis came to confiscate their property and line them up for death camps. The world let it happen.

“Herzl,” the latest production of Moriah Films, the documentary film division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, does not provide answers to subsequent struggles with the Palestinian population over the coveted homeland, but it does provide a crucial archival record of one inspired part of the story.

a documentary by Richard Trank
Opens in NYC on Aug. 10 at Quad Cinemas.
and in LA on Aug. 17 at Laemmle Music Hall;
Town Center in Encino and Edwards Westpark.

Film Credits

Director: Richard Trank
Producers: Rabbi Marvin Hier and Richard Trank
Writers: Marvin Hier, Richard Trank
Narrated by Ben Kinsley with voices of Christoph Waltz (as Herzl) and Matthew Asner, Athena Demos, Brian McArdle, Tom Metcalf and Steven Schub (as David Ben-Gurion)
Original music: Lee Holdridge
Cinematography: Jeff Victor
Editing: Nimrod Erez
Language: English
Runtime: 97 minutes
Released: Aug. 10, 2012

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