Left Luggage (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is a story about a liberated, secular Jewish girl (Laura Fraser) struggling with her coming of age period in Antwerp in the 1970's, so right away you'll get the picture that it isn't summer blockbuster material. The girl is the daughter of concentration camp survivors, but her only interest in that subject is to forget it and assimilate into mainstream culture. She doesn't get along with or relate to her own parents. 

In the course of the film she becomes the nanny of a Hasidic family. Their attitudes, and the attitudes of people toward them, show her more about herself, and what her family and cultural history really mean.  

This was much too contrived and more-sensitive-than-thou for my taste, and with a couple of plot twists that seem to be deliberately milking the audience for a sympathetic reaction, especially the sub-plot with the little boy in the family who may or may not be able to speak. This can be summed up in one of Scoop's unities 


One of Laura Fraser's breasts pops out of a t-shirt.

Later, Laura Fraser and Heather Weeks go skinny-dipping and we see frontal nudity from both of them.

Fraser's boyfriend is seen naked from behind.

Scoop's law: more often than not, children who begin a movie presumed to be mute or retarded will end the movie chattier than Katie Couric and smarter than Steven Hawking. And then, after they breakthrough, they will die tragically. Why does this always happen? It's a mystery.

Get this - the little four year old kid is presumed to be mute and retarded. When he makes his breakthrough by reciting the Four Questions at a seder, what do you think his strict Hasidic father does? Does he say "oh, praise and thanks to God, he speaks, he's normal"? Does he say "how can this be"? Now, mind you, the kid didn't just say "mommy" or something, but he has practically memorized the entire Talmud, and has reconciled it with modern Quantum Mechanics theory.

Is your guess entered and locked in?

Daddy listens, then complains because the kid made a few theological errors that might have slipped past Solomon. Give me a break. Does that sound realistic to you? I know those Hasidim can be strict, but could there be any caring dad whose heart wouldn't open up in a moment like that?

Meanwhile, Fraser's own father prowls through the streets of Antwerp looking for the spot where he buried two suitcases thirty years earlier, before the Nazis came. (Hence the title: Left Luggage). Get the obvious symbolism? She is also finding her own roots.

After she has been making fun of dad for the incessant digging, she becomes reattached to her Jewishness, and the final scene of the movie shows her and her father digging together. That is so-o-o precious.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen

  • no features

This DVD is a cryin' shame. 

I'm not going to tell you that this is my kind of movie, but so much work and thought and love went into this film that it is simply not right to issue it on DVD in a pan-n-scan version. In some two-shots, both heads are missing and we see noses and mouths facing each other, like some kind of Ingmar Bergman scene. It's a tragedy.


Left Luggage (1998) is an oddity, in that it did very well on the festival circuit winning several awards, then bombed with the critics, but found a popular audience with IMDB readers giving it 7.3 of 10. The story concerns several Holocaust survivors and their children living in Antwerp. The main character is Chaya (Laura Fraser), a young college student, and every bit the modern girl. Her parents did not raise her to be religious. HE father turned his back on his heritage after the war and tried to forget, while her mother buried herself in baking cakes, and weaving to forget. A wise Jewish friend gets her a job as nanny for a Hasidic family, thinking it would be a valuable learning experience for her.

She has a hard time putting up with the rules of the house, but falls for their 4 year old son, who has not yet spoken. She sticks it out, and finds a way to get along with the mother, played brilliantly by Isabella Rossellini. The experience had something of the desired effect, as she gained understanding of her heritage. This was clearly seen in a scene where she and her best friend go skinny-dipping. In the course of the conversation, her friend finds out that she is Jewish, after making some rather rude anti-Jewish remarks, and instantly becomes an ex best friend. Both she and the girlfriend (Heather Weeks) show all three Bs in a quick and mostly blurry swimming scene. The title comes from the fact that her father put everything important to him in two suitcases, and then buried them, when escaping the Nazis. Only now, he would like to find them again, as he is ready to remember the past, but he can't find the location. The title is also symbolic, of course, for the emotional baggage that the families portrayed are carrying around.

It is a slow paced, gentle story, and the character of Chaya, and several others are quite likeable, so the story involved me emotionally, so the tear jerker ending had full effect on me. Admittedly, not for everyone, but if you like character driven drama and have any interest in the culture, you might want to try this one.

The Critics Vote

  • Ebert 2/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.3 
  • With their dollars ... virtually nil - $100,000 domestic gross.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. It wants to be noble and uplifting. I guess it is, in a way, but it is also manipulative and contrived. (Tuna C+)

Return to the Movie House home page