Thursday, July 7, 2016

Simone Zelitch's "Judenstaat"

Simone Zelitch's novels include Louisa, which won the Goldberg Prize for Emerging Jewish Fiction. Her work has been featured on NPR and recent honors include a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

Here Zelitch dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Judenstaat:
Not that I’m biased, but Judenstaat would make a terrific movie. Its heroine is a film archivist, and there’s plenty of opportunity for black-and-white historical footage to be interspersed with the noir-style, semi-grubby, Eastern-bloc-style late 1980s present. I even have a soundtrack. My very hip older sister recently compiled a Judenstaat mix-tape of Schumann, Eisler, East-German underground punk rock, Yiddish ballads, and some Queen (one character’s favorite band!).

As for casting, Judit Klemmer the archivist/widow heroine would need to be introverted, dogged, and secretly beautiful . Claire Danes (with brown hair) would be perfect. I can imagine her wrapped in her dead husband’s overcoat, and casually addressing his ghost. She could play Judit as a college girl, in awe of her Hannah Arendt-like, brilliant, cynical, professor, Anna Lehman (as played by Kathy Bates), and also as a woman in her 30s, losing patience with her overbearing and well-meaning mother (Julie Kavner).

The men in Judit’s life are harder to cast, but the same sister who made the mix-tape gave some suggestions. Michael Fassbender would be a fine Hans Klemmer—Judit’s husband, the Saxon, non-Jewish orchestra conductor who haunts Judit in her archive. He’s already German, of course, and would make a very convincing ghost. Then there’s the Stasi agent, Joseph Bondi. I’ll admit that when I first envisioned Bondi, I thought of him as a kind of young Vladimir Putin (who actually was in East Germany in the 1980s) but as the novel evolved, so did Bondi. Channing Tatum has the right build—compact and muscular—and the right emotional range. He would be holding something back, and only a woman as self-absorbed as Judit wouldn’t know it.

All of the above is open to negotiation, but not this part: the playwright Tony Kushner has to adapt the book into a screenplay. Kushner will recognize every obscure reference to Soviet purges, Yiddish socialism and Zionist history, and will create a film that is a philosophical thriller, true to the book’s intentions. He’s done this before, in the troubling and profound screenplay for Munich—the best movie ever made about Israel. Maybe he can talk Spielberg into directing. I wouldn’t say no.
Visit Simone Zelitch's website.

The Page 69 Test: Judenstaat.

--Marshal Zeringue