In ‘The Last Suit’ A 90-Year-Old Returns Home To Find His Catholic Savior
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In ‘The Last Suit’ A 90-Year-Old Returns Home To Find His Catholic Savior

George Robinson covers film and music for The Jewish Week.

A scene from "The Last Suit." Courtesy of Outsider Pictures
A scene from "The Last Suit." Courtesy of Outsider Pictures

When Pablo Solarz was growing up in Buenos Aires, his grandfather forbade the mention of the word “Poland.” He had his reasons, Solarz said last week in a telephone interview from the Argentine capital.

Solarz, whose memories of his grandfather are warm, borrowed his quirk and bestowed it on the protagonist of his new film “The Last Suit,” the story of a charming curmudgeon who is determined to go back to the old country one last time to fulfill an all-but-forgotten promise to the Polish Catholic who saved his life when the war ended. That delightfully eccentric journey — Buenos Aires to Madrid to Paris to Berlin to Warsaw and, finally, to Lodz — is the basis for Solarz’s impishly funny film, which will screen here later in the month.

Oddly, Grandfather was not a survivor of the Shoah, although many of the family’s relatives were murdered by the Nazis. In fact, the older man had left his native Poland in the 1930s, settling comfortably in the vibrant Jewish-Argentine community.

A scene from the “The Last Suit.” Courtesy of Outsider Pictures

“The young Jews were escaping from poverty and violence [in Poland],” the writer-director said. “I didn’t get to talk with my grandfather about this. We had a nice relationship, but this we didn’t talk about.”

As an indirect result, Solarz’s exposure to Polish culture drew more from the likes of Chopin, the novelist (and Argentine transplant) Witold Gombrowicz and filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski.

“My motivation [for making the film] comes from them, Polish artists that changed my life when I was 16 or 17,” he said. “I learned about Jan Karski [the Polish diplomat who desperately tried to inform the Allies of the murder of European Jews] and the government-in-exile in London and the suffering of the Polish people under the Nazis. It’s impossible to say that the entire Polish people are anti-Semites, that they were all responsible for these crimes.”

His protagonist, Avraham Bursztein (Miguel Ángel Solá), might even agree, reluctantly.

“He’s a 90-year-old man who crosses half the world to met a Polish person, not a Jewish person,” Solarz noted. “This was the story I needed to tell.”

And he needed Solá to help him tell it. Although his original intention was to cast a 90-something actor in the part, Solarz quickly realized that this was simply not practical for a shoot that would be protracted and spread over four European countries.

Sola is an oft-garlanded actor whose career stretches back to the early-’70s and is a veritable encyclopedia of prestigious Argentine television work, dotted with excellent film appearances. But as a mere youth of 68, he required nearly three hours of make-up, including latex and a wig, to get him into the nineties.

“I’m following him since I was a kid,” Solarz said enthusiastically. “I admire this actor from my childhood. I saw him in the theater, TV, films. He was the first choice.”

It is hard to imagine a film with a more subtle range of tones working without such a strong lead performance.

Although Solarz had his first screen- and teleplays produced in 2000, “The Last Suit” is only his second film as a director. The script has been around for about 14 years but he didn’t want to risk taking on such complicated project for his directorial debut. After he enjoyed considerable success with “Together Forever” (2011), a comedy about a screenwriter, of all things, he knew he could handle the more difficult project and, with great joy, reacquired the rights to it.

The result, he said, was a nice success in Argentina. “The reactions were good and we were surprised by the size the audience,” Solarz said.

When asked about any backlash against the Jewish themes, he was emphatic. “The Argentine audiences were very enthusiastic,” he said. “There are some tensions here, but there are a lot more Jews in Argentina than there are ex-Nazis.”

The Last Suit” will have a preview screening on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan (76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue) before opening theatrically on Sept. 21 at the AMC Lincoln Square (Broadway and 68th Street, amctheatres.com) and the Kew Gardens Cinemas (81-05 Lefferts Blvd., Queens, kewgardenstheatre.com).

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