Jews in the News: Nicole Holofcener, John Magaro and Jamie-Lynn Sigler

A Woman Was Needed, Jews Playing Italians, Nobel Prize Note

“The Last Duel” opens in theaters on Oct. 15. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film depicts the last (1386) legally sanctioned “trial by combat” in French history. The trial really happened and remains famous in France to this day. Amazingly complete records of the trial still exist and there are other written sources that relay what many prominent men thought about the trial as it was happening. These sources formed the basis of a best-selling (2004) historical study called “The Last Duel” and the book was the starting point for the film’s screenplay.

The basic story: Jean Carrouges (Matt Damon), a knight, and Jacques LeGris (Adam Driver), a squire, are ordered to fight to the death after Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer), accuses LeGris of raping her. If Carrouges loses, Marguerite will be burned at the stake for perjury.

The screenplay was co-written by Damon, Affleck, and NICOLE HOLOFCENER, 61. This is the first film Damon and Affleck have written together since they won an Oscar for co-writing “Good Will Hunting”.

Some months ago, when I saw Holofcener’s name on the credits, I wondered how she came to co-write a medieval action movie. She is known as the director and writer of films set in the present that focus on romantic relationships and/or female friendships (”Enough”, “Lovely and Amazing”, “Friends with Money”).

A Sept. 13, 2021 NY Times interview with Damon, Affleck, and Holofcener gave the answer. The film, the Times says, is divided into three chapters: the “truth” according to Carrouges, the “truth” according Le Gris and, finally, the "truth” according to Marguerite.

Damon and Affleck wrote the male perspectives, but felt they needed a woman to write Marguerite’s story. They told the Times that there were very good records as to what the men thought, but virtually no records about what Marguerite—or any woman of that era---was thinking or saying. They really wanted Holofcener to work with them and she quickly agreed to be a co-writer. She poured over what sources she could find to come as close as she thought she could get to presenting a historically plausible exposition of Marguerite’s story from Marguerite’s perspective.

I imagine the release of the prequel film “The Many Saints of Newark” has had many old “Sopranos” fans thinking about re-watching “Sopranos” episodes. Those who have only seen “Many Saints”, and liked it, will likely watch the HBO series. Here are some “Sopranos”-related items I think will interest both groups.

If you want more of the late James Gandolfini, the great actor who played the lead role (Tony) in the “Sopranos”, do check out two films: “Enough”, a really smart and moving romantic film co-starring Gandolfini and Julia-Louis Dreyfuss. It was written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. Also, “Not Fade Away”, a 2013 film written and directed by David Chase, the “Sopranos” creator. The setting is the mid-‘60s and the film focuses on Doug, an Italian-American teen who wants to be a rock star. JOHN MAGARO, now 34, plays Doug. Gandolfini plays Pat, Doug’s father. He masterfully conveys Pat’s evolution from “anti-hippie” to a lot more “mellow”. Overall, the film is so/so (now streaming on Hulu).

Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of Jewish actors who played Italian-Americans in the “Sopranos”. Some, I think, will surprise you. In alphabetical order, by character name: Richie Aprile, a major gangster (DAVID PROVAL, now 79); Angie Bonpensiero, the wife of “Big Pussy”, who was “whacked” for informing. Angie took over his car-repair business and ran it surprisingly well (TONI KALEM, 65. Her parents were co-founders of their synagogue); Finn DeTrolio, the boyfriend of Meadow, Tony’s daughter, for two seasons (WILL JANOWITZ, now 41); Benny Fazio, a gangster who, most memorably, feuded with Artie, Tony’s restaurant owner friend (MAX CASSELLA, now 54. His father is Jewish); Donna Parisi, the wife of a gangster and, as the series ended, the mother of Meadow’s fiancé (DONNA PESCOW, now 67); Meadow Soprano (JAMIE-LYNN SIGLER, now 40)--and, with an 'asterisk'-- major gangster Bobby Baccalieri (Steve Schrippa, now 64. His mother was Jewish. He was raised in his father’s Catholic faith).

I was moved when I realized that a Jewish American scientist, David Julius, 65, and an Armenian American scientist, Ardem Patapoutian, 41, were the co-winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in medicine. In some sense, they “say” that our respective peoples were the victims of the two worst genocides of the 20th century, but “we” are still here and we are still doing great things for humanity.


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