“Life is not easy for everyone,” Olga Bowman says about midway through Andrew Jacobs’s spectacular cinéma vérité documentary, FOUR SEASONS LODGE. “But life can be beautiful even when it’s not so easy.” For twenty-five summers, a group of Holocaust survivors, mostly Polish Jews, would meet at the Four Seasons Lodge in the Catskills, where they would talk, dance, argue, eat, hug, discuss their latest aches and pains, and primarily revel in life despite the horrific things they suffered through and witnessed at such concentration camps as Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Jacobs discovered this heartwarming community while researching a series of articles for the New York Times; when he heard that the lodge was being sold and that the 2006 season might be the group’s last, he decided to make a movie about it. Seeking advice from the legendary Albert Maysles, Jacobs actually landed the master documentarian as his chief cameraman, giving FOUR SEASONS LODGE the feel of such classic Maysles brothers’ works as SALESMAN and GREY GARDENS.
Jacobs is like the proverbial fly on the wall, focusing on ten primary characters who don’t mind sharing their simple existence with the rest of the world. “I am full of life,” one woman says, and that is what the film is really about, even as this collection of extraordinary people are staring at their own mortality. They might have survived the camps, but as they reach into their eighties and nineties, they understand that death is near – but they refuse to let a little thing like that stop them from enjoying some lox and herring, schmaltzy music, bad jokes, and, most of all, each other. Audiences will fall in love with such couples as Hymie and Tosha Abramowitz (Hymie’s pronunciation of the word herring is worth the price of admission all by itself), Tobias Buchman and Lola Wenglin, and the endearing Olga Bowman and Genya Boyman, who are all charming in unique, unexpected ways. FOUR SEASONS LODGE is an extraordinary accomplishment, a subtle yet unforgettable experience that is one of the best films of the decade.