Critics' Pick

The Optimists (NR)

Drama 83 October 21st, 2005
By Ernest Hardy
There's much to admire in The Optimists, a lean, engrossing documentary about the persecution of Bulgaria's Jews during the Holocaust and the ways in which their multicultural, poly-religious community (Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived side by side) rallied to save them. One moment in particular resonates in the present. An elderly Christian bishop, after detailing how the various communities harmoniously coexisted for centuries before the Nazis arrived, explains his own beliefs and teachings: "It is criminal to impose your spiritual beliefs on your fellow man." With great economy but never skimping on detail, co-directors Jacky and Lisa Comforty outline how their ancestors were driven out of Spain before settling in Bulgaria, bringing with them the Spanish language and elements of Spanish culture, as well as Jewish traditions, all of which they retained as they settled into and absorbed the traditions of Bulgaria. The conscious decision was made to melt into Bulgarian culture in order to stave off a repeat of past Jewish exiles. For years, it worked, but with the rise of Nazism and a Bulgarian government that was enmeshed economically with Germany, the safety net was dangerously frayed. The beauty of The Optimists (the title is taken from the name of the jazz band one of the subjects formed in 1937) is in various subjects recounting how non-Jewish friends rose up as protectors. The lesson of the film is the way it illustrates how the monstrous and the sublime, the best and worst of human nature are in a constant tango and what we might all learn from the past.
Jacky Comforty Jacky Comforty, Lisa Comforty Jacky Comforty, Lisa Comforty Castle Hill Productions