The Book of Ruth

By Chen Drachman | Drama
A grandmother reveals a secret after a family dinner. It's a surprising twist.

Ruth is getting a visit from her daughter and grandchildren, gathering together for Passover. It's a warm, loving celebration, full of food, conversation and family. But her granddaughter Lizzy has something she wants to discuss.

Lizzy knows something about her grandmother, something that could change the cultural fabric of the world. But when she tries to bring it up, Ruth wriggles out of the conversation -- until she realizes she can't fool her smart granddaughter anymore. What follows is the surfacing of a long-held family secret, a woman confronting the pain of her past and a meditation on what being our true selves really means.

Directed by Becca Roth from a script by Chen Drachman (who also plays Lizzy), the film begins in a flurry of activity and chatter, with loving matriarch Ruth at the center of it all. It's clear she's raised a kind, warm-hearted family, and even the traditions at dinner are infused with humor and connection. This family gathering is captured with simple but effective naturalistic camerawork, which gives us a sense of life unfurling and of the life's richness and bounty that Ruth has created for herself. As viewers, we're nestled right at the heart of this family's life, and we feel the love, belonging and connection alongside its members.

But the deft storytelling places small clues and hints that something is off, especially in the form of TV and radio reports that Anne Frank and her sister Margot died earlier than previously reported. Ruth's reactions to these are picked up on by Lizzy, who presses her grandmother on something that she's long wondered about. At first, Ruth denies it. But later she confesses her truth.

Actor Tovah Feldshuh -- a Broadway star with four Tony nominations under her belt -- is extraordinary as Ruth reveals her truth, evincing a lifetime of secrecy, sadness and resilience in one conversation. But what's truly infectious about her is her commitment to her own contentment and peace -- and her understanding of what part of her story means to the larger world.

"The Book of Ruth" is essentially a "what if" story, a poignant imagining of a girl who survived the worst and managed to thrive in a new life. But in Ruth's explanation to Lizzy, it's also a meditation on the power of stories themselves, and the role they play in history, hope and remembrance. The idea that an iconic symbol associated with the Holocaust and its horrors actually survived in secret is a heart-tugging fantasy for a historical figure that has become so beloved for her intelligence, honesty and authenticity, and still mourned for her tragic ending. But it also speaks to the other legacy of Anne Frank's life: as a representation of human potential. That she could survive and go on to live an ordinary yet beautifully rich and full life -- rather than be cut down by human evil and depraved repression -- touches on what was lost for so many in the Holocaust: a future with families, gathering and love that endures throughout the generations.

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