Taking “The Backseat” at the 27th New York Jewish Film Festival
There’s a Yiddish expression for people of a certain age who are eligible for Social Security, who partake of early bird dinners in Miami, and who can remember seeing Sophie Tucker on The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s alte kake.
According to the Jewish Language Lexicon, this is a sort of a loving, tongue-in-cheek way to refer to an elderly person, literally “an old shitter.”
Joe Stankus and Ashley Connor’s The Backseat is a paean to two such alte kakes, who live around Albany. The octogenarian actors in this 8-minute short portray themselves. Grandma and Grandpa (Joan and Fred Paul) are at home busy at a word puzzle and playing computer solitaire, respectively, when their daughter, Andrea Stankus, calls. Her car broke down, and she needs to get to a meeting quickly. Can they help?
Of course, they can, except Mom’s pacing for an emergency is on par with a heavy matzoh ball getting through your digestive tract. There’s the sweater she must put on, the scarf, the perfume on the wrists, and the hairspray. Then there’s the careful treading of the stairs up and down, and the walk past the refrigerator covered with photos of the grandchildren, and finally into the car. Get ready for the fress talk.
Grandpa: Now for the seder . . .
Grandma: Yeah . . .
Grandpa: You say we are going to do it buffet style for most of it . . .
Grandma: Yeah, but we usually start the meal with the egg which will always be on the table. Then we’ll bring the gefilte fish. . .
The genuineness of the scene, an adlibbed kvetch-fest relayed with Jewish intonations, about whether a buffet-style seder will work on not, will bring back memories to anyone whose relatives escaped to America during the 30s and 40s, or who grew up on the Lower East Side.
Then Andrea is picked up. She’s thankful until she starts choking on the fumes of her mother’s perfume, which is affecting her ability to breathe.
Grandma: Take a pill.
Andrea: You know you didn’t have to bring Mom, you know.
Then there’s a discussion of how much gravy should be made for the seder before the chatter turns to popular culture after Grandpa stops at a deli for a bagel and cinnamon rolls.
Grandma: Did you watch Chicago Med last night?
Grandma: Imagine having a child who’s a psychopath. Oh, my God! When he was young, he used to strangle cats.
The whole production, both in front and behind the camera, is a family affair, one that you’ll be glad you were invited to, and that will hopefully be expanded into some feature-length Woody-Allenesque meshugas.
(“The Back Seat” is one of the many engaging offerings currently being screened at the 27th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center, which runs until January 23, 2018. Other must-sees include Amos Gitai’s explosive Israeli “peace” documentary, West of the Jordan River; a revival of Gitai’s Holocaust drama starring Jeanne Moreau, One Day You’ll Understand; and the Shorts Program.)