Saturday, January 16, 2016

NYJFF ’16: Tito’s Glasses

He was a dictator, but Marshal Tito maintained a degree of Yugoslavian independence from the Soviet Bloc. Besides the wise counsel of future dissident Milovan Djilas, many credit his Titoist policies to his history as a real deal partisan. Yet, Adriana Altaras’s former partisan father barely escaped the business end of a Soviet-style purge. Despite his good luck, Jakob Altaras recognized the writing on the wall and subsequently smuggled his family into Western Europe. Now a mother herself, Altaras takes a road trip into the past to explore her complicated relationship with her parents and their native Croatia in Regina Schilling’s Tito’s Glasses (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 New York Jewish Film Festival.

Altaras was somewhat in awe of her father, but she spent many of her formative years living with her staunchly anti-Communist aunt in Italy. Like Altaras herself, her parents’ attitudes towards Tito and their Yugoslavian homeland remained complicated and contradictory, even though they got out while the getting was good. Nevertheless, Dr. Altaras achieved a good deal of professional success in Germany. His daughter even visits the university where he taught, which has erected a stone memorial in his honor, shaped like the radiological probe he invented. It is a small monument, but it sure looks uncomfortable, if you follow me.

The charming, philandering Dr. Altaras and his standoffish wife Thea are intriguing figures, who helped revitalize the Jewish community in their provincial German district (hence, Glasses selection for this year’s NYJFF). They could easily support a feature length documentary. Therefore, it is rather frustrating how much time Schilling spends on Adriana Altaras’s road movie business. Granted, the film is based on her family memoir, but viewers will be coming to hear about her father’s service with Tito in the forests and trenches rather than her struggles to discipline her entitled teenaged son.

The Tito-Djilas era remains endlessly fascinating. However, Schilling and Altaras spend so much time trying to convince the audience she is just a slightly scatterbrained everyday wife and mother, they unfortunately succeed. We all hope she can come to terms with her personal ghosts, but we want to hear more about Jakob Altaras’s defection and wartime experiences, like the apocryphal family legend that gives the film it title. It is not a bad film per se, but anyone who has read the classic Conversations with Stalin will find Tito’s Glasses disappointingly light weight when it screens twice this Tuesday (1/19) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of this year’s NYJFF.