Rooted in the Yiddish folklore of Sholem Aleichem’s short stories, Eva Neymann’s tender third feature is a delicate and affecting coming-of-age story set in a Ukrainian shtetl at the beginning of the 20th century.
The film delicately recreates the idyllic village life of a Hasidic community in a turn-of-the-century Ukrainian shtetl. Growing up in this beautiful but insular world, guided and nurtured by tradition, the sprite-like young Shimek (Yevheniy Kogan) submits with endearing resignation to his conservative parents’ rearing.
His preternatural tenderness unshaken even by the school’s terribly stern rabbi, he cultivates a friendship with local girl Buzya (Milena Tsibulskaya), but their demonstrations of affection are restrained by the village’s orthodox customs and their own childhood naiveté. Alas, it is only after fate sends Shimek away from his village and its entrenched customs that he realizes the true depth of his feelings for Buzya. When he finally returns, it will be a homecoming tinged with regret but redeemed by hope that the old world can be born anew.
With beautiful tableaux worthy of the Flemish masters, Neymann constructs a remarkably detailed atmosphere evoking the long-lost world of Europe’s Jewish shtetls.
The film’s magical, ephemeral aura is aided immeasurably by the soundtrack, a collection of vinyl recordings by Jewish singers and musicians. Supported by the nuanced debut performances from its two leads, Song of Songs is a cinematic doina, a lyrical depiction of youthful devotion in a time of great change.
Eva Neymann was born in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, and studied film direction at the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin. She directed the documentaries Just Like Old Times and God’s Ways before her fiction feature debut, At the River. Her other fiction features are House with a Turret and Song of Songs.