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Michael Aloni as Moshe Mishali in “Plan A.” Photo: Menemsha Films

‘Plan A’, ‘Hairspray’ offer 2 very different ‘revenge’ stories

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‘Plan A’, ‘Hairspray’ offer 2 very different ‘revenge’ stories

Michael Aloni as Moshe Mishali in “Plan A.” Photo: Menemsha Films

It has often been said that living is the best revenge. This is arguably truest of the thousands of Holocaust survivors who worked and established companies, built homes, and had children and grandchildren in Israel and throughout the world since 1945. Yad Vashem and Shoah foundations continue to record the experiences and document survivors’ lives while Nazi hunters like the late Simon Wiesenthal have found many Nazis and brought them to trial.

“Plan A,” now screening at West Newton Cinema, tells the story of a very different kind of revenge. A small paramilitary group (about 50) named Nakam (Hebrew for revenge) – sensing that Nazis are disappearing and believing they cannot wait for the Nuremberg trials – hatches a plan to kill Germans by poisoning the water supply in Nuremberg, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne and Weimar.

Israeli brother directors Yoav and Doron Paz have turned that eye-for-an-eye attempt and its aftermath into a slow-starting but ultimately compelling historical thriller. Based on the 2019 nonfiction work “Vengeance and Retribution Are Mine: Community, the Holocaust and Abba Kovner’s Revenge” by Israeli historian Dina Porat, “Plan A” (filmed in Germany, Israel and Ukraine) begins in 1945 Germany as survivors search for their families and try to go back to their homes. This is the case for fictional protagonist Max (August Diehl, whose credits include “Inglorious Basterds”), who eventually discovers that his wife and son have been executed by the Nazis and finds his house taken over by a non-Jewish family that refuses to return it. Heading to a refugee camp with a fellow survivor, Max meets Michael (Michael Aloni of “Shtisel” fame), a member of the Jewish Brigade of the British army, a group that becomes part of the Haganah, Israel’s defense army.

At various points in the film, Michael speaks to Max about a future “new life” for Jews in Israel. When revenge-desiring Max seems ready to join Nakam, Michael warns him that Kovner’s group would jeopardize Israel’s future. Michael speaks evocatively of survivors starting families in Israel and “a generation with no fear.” Resistance fighter and Kovner (also a talented poet whose Hebrew work this critic has studied) means to indiscriminately poison Germans – “a nation for a nation,” he declares. Max and fellow conflicted Holocaust survivor Anna (Sylvia Hoeks) – for whom he is developing strong feelings – head to a victory newsreel that also recalls Nazi experiments and atrocities. Ultimately, Max and Anna will abandon Plan A despite their rage and pain. Max will go home to Israel. Even Kovner eventually opts for heading to Israel and a kibbutz, Ein HaHoresh.

If “Plan A” initially suffers from slow pacing and a plot that needs more clarity, the film eventually picks up as attention focuses on the Nuremberg water supply and Max and Anna’s choices. Throughout the film, Diehl and Hoeks – very expressive and vocally nuanced – are commandingly moving as they range from quiet suffering and inner despair to deep uncertainty and final decisiveness. Aloni is equally persuasive as Israel and new life advocate Michael. Ishai Golan has the right tenacity as Kovner, though the brothers Paz ought to include a bit more of his poetry to make his depiction fuller. To their credit, the Pazes interviewed Nakam group members (there are four still alive) in preparing their film.

Kudos also go to Moshe Mishali for striking cinematography – especially during scenes of the pivotal water supply.

“Plan A” may take its time reaching Kovner and Nakam’s moment of truth, but this worthy film does bring important attention to not only a disturbing quest for vengeance but also a vision of Israel as a source of new life for many Holocaust survivors.

“Plan A” is screening at the West Newton Cinema.

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Andrew Levitt (left) and Ralph Prentice Daniel in “Hairspray.” Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Before there was Patsy, Arthur’s righthand man who turns out to be a member of the tribe in “Spamalot” (2004), there was Jewish novelty inventor Wilbur Turnblad in “Hairspray” (2002). One of the most endearing numbers in composer Marc Shaiman’s and co-lyricist Scott Wittman’s catchy score for this exuberant Tony Award-winning musical is the second-act love duet for Wilbur and wife Edna Turnblad entitled “(You’re) Timeless to Me.” The duet reveals Wilbur’s heritage as he sings out “Shabbat Shalom” and Edna amusingly alludes to his circumcision.

Under Matt Lenz’s sharp direction of the stellar tour cast at the Citizen Bank Opera House, Ralph Prentice Daniel as Wilbur and Andrew Levitt as Edna have fine chemistry as very different but long-married spouses and deeply caring parents of Tracy Turnblad, the would-be Miss Teenage Hairspray protagonist of the story, in 1962 Baltimore.

Niki Metcalf captures Tracy’s embrace of life, love and activism – the last for big women like her mother and against segregation. She sings sweetly with equally affecting Nick Cortazzo as her handsome heartthrob Link Larkin – notably on their own love duet “It Takes Two.” Robbie Roby’s choreography keeps the dance sequences in high gear – especially the first-act number, “The Madison.”

This big-hearted tour proves once again that “Hairspray” is as timeless as Wilbur and Edna’s love.

“Hairspray” through Oct. 30 at the Citizen Bank Opera House.

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