To hear the review:
House of Life tells the story of the Old Jewish Cemetary in Prague, a place where maybe hundreds of thousands of Jewish people are buried. It’s impossible to tell how many people are actually in this cemetary, because they have been buried layer upon layer over the years. There are about 12,000 grave markers still visible, but beneath those markers lie the bodies of countless others. The documentary is brief – 52 minutes – and explores several facets of the cemetary, some more interesting than others.
I’m a History Channel buff, and it’s the history of the place that interests me most. Film maker Alan Miller tells the stories of a few of the names on the grave stones, and in doing so talks about the history of the Jewish community in the Prague ghetto. Some of the stories are myths and legends, like the man molded out of clay who rose up to become the Golem who laid waste to an invading force, or the sticks and stones that were thrown at a local holy man but became flowers when they were in the air and hit the ground. Other stories are about real-life philanthropists and high-society women. The history and the legends are fascinating.
What I don’t care about (and this is just me) is the other stuff. The method by which they clean the tombstones? Don’t care. The maintenance of the area? Not interested. I did find the last little bit a little thought-provoking – the Old Jewish Cemetary now requires admission fees. Religious people who want to make a pilgramage to this holy site now have to buy a pass to a series of historic Jewish monuments in Prague. Many people find this to be crass, others say it’s the only way they can afford the upkeep on the cemetary. But the subject is not really dealt with in depth.
Then again, few subjects in House of Life are dealt with in depth. It’s just a nice documentary about a nice old fascinating place, and at a sub-one-hour running time it plays out like a little special that might run on the History Channel. But, like I said, I am a History Channel buff, and so I did enjoy it. House of Life comes out March 24th from First Run Features.