This taut period piece set in late 19th century London follows a working-class Jewish girl’s quest to escape the slum. Summer Phoenix (sister of Joaquin and the late River Phoenix) plays the sensuous, introverted daughter of Russian-Jewish tailors. As a teenager, she has trouble fitting in with her large family and only experiences true feeling when she sneaks away to the theatre. She falls almost violently in love with the stage and becomes determined to make it fall in love with her. Her relationships with men of the theatre are equally fraught with tension. (An acting teacher played by Ian Holm is the first man to discover her and make her his personal project.) But what makes this film as tense as any thriller is its unravelling of a universal mystery—the drive towards personal freedom of expression, even at great cost.
ESTHER KAHN was rated best film of the year 2000 by the prestigious French review Cahiers du Cinéma. Young French director and immigrant rights activist Arnaud Desplechin’s languid vision of the East End offers crisp, geometric cinematography textured with swirling smoke and milky fog. Yiddish inflected Cockney, is another enchanting surprise.
2000 Cannes Film Festival