Jews in the News: Scarlett Johansson, Nick Kroll and Lolita Chammah

Fun for the Holidays

"Sing”, which opened on Wednesday, December 21, is an animated fantasy musical set in a world much like our own, except it’s completely inhabited by animals (voiced by humans, of course). Buster, a dapper koala (Matthew McConaughey), runs a once-grand theater that has fallen on hard times. He hits on the idea of reviving the theater by having a singing competition. A mis-print in the ad for the competition promises a $100K prize to the winner (Buster doesn’t really have that sort of money). The big prize attracts a horde of singers and eventually five top competitors emerge: A smooth crooning mouse (Seth MacFarlane); a timid teenage elephant (Tori Kelly) with an enormous case of stage fright; an overtaxed mother pig (Reese Witherspoon) run ragged tending a litter of 25 piglets; a young gangster gorilla (Taron Egerton) looking to break free of his family's felonies, and a punk-rock porcupine struggling to shed her arrogant boyfriend and go solo. The porcupine is voiced by SCARLETT JOHANSSON, 32, who really does have a fine singing voice. Kosher actor NICK KROLL, 28, has a large “unkosher” supporting voice role as Gunter, a domestic pig with a German accent. Gunter is the dance partner of Rosita, the pig voiced by Witherspoon. (“Sing” was just nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated feature film).

Huppert’s Moment

Two French language films starring French actress Isabelle Huppert, 63, opened in limited release in the last month: “Elle” and “Things to Come.” Both got great reviews and Huppert won both the New York and Los Angeles film critics’ award for best actress of 2016—both awards cited both films in the award citation. I have never seen a “dual award” before. Nothing is certain, but the betting odds are that Huppert will win the Golden Globe for “Elle” (for which she was just nominated)—and the Oscar for best actress. (“Elle” is much more likely to play a theater near you in the near future than “Things to Come.”)

“Things to Come” is about a philosophy professor (Huppert) whose comfortable life is upended when her husband leaves her for another woman. But this film is more than a story about infidelity: The professor is a complex, smart woman who is able to move on with her life. Her life before and after the break-up is fully explored via dialogue that rings true. On the other hand, “Elle” is a much darker film and harder to briefly describe. Huppert plays a tough career woman whose father is a serial killer who’s about to come up for his first parole hearing. Her father’s dark past stops her from calling the police when she is raped in her home by a masked assailant. Suffice it say, here, that she finds out who the rapist is and her relationship with that man takes many surprising turns.

You may have seen recent articles in “The Forward” and “The Jerusalem Post” which described Huppert as “Jewish” following her Golden Globe nomination. This is a highly misleading description. Huppert’s father was a wealthy Jewish manufacturer. Her mother was Catholic and she was raised Catholic. Her parents married during the Nazi occupation of France and numerous reports say that he "laid low" during the occupation to survive (One ‘shaky’ source seems to say her father became a Catholic and, if so, one would presume he did so to help hide his Jewish background).

Huppert is very reluctant to talk about her father’s Jewish background. Typical is this exchange with a French magazine “No, it’s my father [not my mother; who is Jewish]. But I never talk about it…Because there was silence about it in my family, and it’s a silence I naturally prolong.”

You would think Huppert would be more open---she has played a Jewish woman in at least two films (which prompted questions about her own background)-- and her husband of 35 years is producer/director RAYMOND CHAMMAH, 60. He’s a Lebanon-born Jew and the father of the couple’s three children. One is actress LOLITA CHAMMAH, 33, who is well known in France.

Frankly, I think with Huppert family we are dealing, in least in part, with the twisted wreckage of the Holocaust and its lasting psychic affects. Bits and pieces in interviews make me think that her father just keep on “hiding” his Jewish background after the war and what was a family secret was disclosed by Isabelle’s sister, a writer who “talks.” In any event, describing Isabelle as “Jewish”, without explanation, is wrong. But there is a Jewish story here.


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