AVALON    (1990)

This is one of 3 films from VP’s archives recommended for Thanksgiving viewing.

(Also see What’s Cooking? & Broadway Danny Rose.)

Rating PG. Running time: 2 hours 8 min.

Our content ratings Violence 1; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1

Our star rating (1-5): 5

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 118:29

avalon

AVALON was director-writer Barry Levinson’s third film set in his native Baltimore. It starts out on the night of July 4th when Sam Krichinsky first sets foot on American soil near the beginning of this century. Brought over from Poland by his older brothers, Sam thinks that the dazzling display of sky rockets are a promising portent of good things to come. We move quickly through his early life, his marriage, the birth of his son Jules, and the latter’s entrance into a new kind of business, that of selling home appliances. As the business grows, so does the family, young Michael, Jules’ son, especially becoming the apple of Sam’s eye. The huge clan is a close one, as long as they remain in the Avalon district of Baltimore, but after the Second World War, the desire to move to the suburbs begins to loosen the family ties.

The extended family always gathers at Sam and Eva Krichinsky’s home for Thanksgiving, even though she does not really understand the holiday. It’s something that Americans are supposed to do, so she serves up turkey and all the trimmings. The others aren’t much help in enlightening her, one of them asking, “Who are we to thank?”

But to Sam Thanksgiving is mainly the time to gather the children around him and tell them again how he and his brothers came to America. Tired of hearing it, the other adults try to shush him, but Sam takes no heed. “The children need to know,” Sam declares. The dinners are always late because one of the brothers is always late in arriving. Each year he has a different excuse. However, it is a rigid rule that the dinner does not begin until all four brothers and their families have arrived. When Sam breaks this rule because of his impatience in getting started there are sad consequences that foreshadow the changes that almost every close-knit family will undergo with the advent of suburbanization and television.

The film is a richly textured one, detailing the important events that shaped their relationships. Very moving is the scene in which young Michael, believing that he and his cousin are responsible for the fire that destroyed their fathers’ appliance store, cannot confide in his father, going instead to his grandfather and confessing to him on the old man’s porch. Very different from this is the funny scene centering on the arrival of the family’s first television set. In the late 40’s there was little daytime broadcasting, other than a test pattern. When the family gathers in front of the set, they turn it on and wait expectantly for something to happen. The test pattern appears. They sit there and wait and wait. Not very exciting, is Sam’s judgment finally as he gets up and leaves the room. Of course, later they are watching the programs all America is watching, and we notice that their relationship changes. There is less talk. Less family gatherings, because no one wants to miss their favorite shows. At the end of the film the dominance of, and companionship, television is especially poignant.

Mr. Levinson assembled a great cast to bring his story alive: Armin Mueller-Stahl (remember him as the abusive father in Shine?) is Sam, and Joan Plowright is Eva Krachinsky. Aiden Quinn plays their son Jules, and Elizabeth Perkins is his wife Ann. A young Elijah Wood shines as their son Michael.  A good film to watch with the family, especially if one wants to celebrate the special place that grandfathers can have in our lives.

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