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Movie review: '100 Voices: A Journey Home'

Cameras follow as 72 cantors visit Poland, where cantorial music was born but decimated by the Holocaust. Gloriously, their voices rise.

September 22, 2010|By Kevin Thomas, Special to the Los Angeles Times

It's hard to imagine a more profound expression of the healing power of music than Matthew Asner and Danny Gold's deeply affecting "100 Voices: A Journey Home."

The film follows cantor Nate Lam, of L.A.'s Stephen S. Wise Temple and father of the film's co-writer and co-producer, as the 72 cantors he gathered from around the world perform at the Warsaw Opera House, the largest theater of its kind in Europe. They also appeared at the Krakow Philharmonic, participated in Poland's annual Jewish Cultural Heritage Festival and conducted the first Jewish service at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Accompanying the cantors was composer Charles Fox, who wrote the film's score and a special piece set to the words of Pope John Paul II. The cantors performed at the Warsaw Opera House with its 100-member chorus and 100-member orchestra, a 40-voice children's choir and eight children from the Wise temple. No wonder Lam decided the experience should be filmed. Poland, where, before the Holocaust, Polish and Jewish cultures were interwoven, is where cantorial music was born.

"100 Voices" would be glorious simply as a concert film but is immeasurably more. The cantors were on a mission to help the revival of Jewish culture in their ancestral land, in which Jews were all but eradicated in the Holocaust. Most all the cantors the filmmakers focus on are sons of Holocaust survivors, and the film follows them to their families' towns and cities in which the Jewish presence has been almost if not wholly eradicated.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, one cantor found himself singing not 5 feet from where his father was forced to push fellow Jews into gas chambers. His father told him he could bear it only by considering himself already dead and would surely have perished were not the war drawing to an end; his own starving brother died during the camp's evacuation.

Enriching the film greatly are Asner (son of actor Ed Asner) and Gold's fine use of archival materials, including clips of the beloved Molly Picon in performance and a visit to the Ida Kaminska Theater; Kaminska was star of the Oscar-winning "The Shop on Main Street." The filmmakers take note of the thousands of Poles killed by the Nazis and those Poles who saved thousands of Jewish lives.

The cantors were enthusiastically received, drawing sold-out, cheering audiences, and plan to perform in Germany in 2012.

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