It’s no surprise that a film from oft-time Shakespearean Director, Mark Rosenblatt, begins like a whirling dervish. We spin into the house of a well-to-do family and get a peek into the play happening moments before Mrs. Hirth (a fantastically nuanced Lydia Wilson) returns from her day’s activities. We meet her daughter Ruthie, a small child whose whimsical spirit presents a stark contrast to the white walls and minimal, yet rich décor, that surrounds her. Played by the magnificent Izabella Dziewansksa, whose wide-eyed silent stare speaks volumes, this little girl seems confined to these walls – her only friend, a warm-natured housekeeper named Lynn (played by the lovely Sophie McShera).
Ganef is a tale of how the trauma of the past impacts the living of the present – for all parties. In sharing a story with Ruthie about why she hides nice things, Mrs.Hirth reveals her lifetime trauma of having lived through the concentration camps and her struggles with the ongoing fear that anything nice will be taken by a ganef, or thief. That child then takes those fears into a mistaken witnessing and the story of Ganef unfolds.
A powerful focus lies on how each of these three ladies experience this world; how the lessons of the mother become the action of the child – how a treasured friend and sole playmate suddenly becomes a foe when an act is misinterpreted.
Issues of loyalty, honesty, hiding and safety run deep among each of these character’s stories, as does desire, and if its pull exceeds ethics or rational thinking.
You could leave the camera on any one of these exquisite actresses and see a plethora of thoughts and questions in each of their looks. Each glance and stare are full of stories racing behind still eyes.
The brief scene, featuring Ruthie’s Dad, played by Danny Scheinmann, adds only to show that even within our own walls there is a public versus private experience happening, a keeping up of appearances so to speak.
Rosenblatt uses music (Marc Teitler) to great effect, underscoring the emotion of a story moving from play to danger, back to play, and back to questioning again. The shake of a rattle is a call to play that when denied is crushing to Ruthie. In a world that precedes “if you see something, say something”, confessing or tattling, obeying rules while simultaneously breaking them, touching the forbidden or holding something a treasure out of fear it will be taken, all have dire moment-to-moment effects; when misunderstandings clarified, often bring one back to the same initial conclusion.
Art director Laura Lily Smith details the set down to the blurry outlines in each nook and cranny. We get a clear vision of wealth succeeding poverty, expanse and restraint, living fully or medicated in the aftermath of deep trauma.
Ganef leaves many questions in the end. What is next for each of these ladies? How large the measure of impact of one small deed or misunderstanding if lives and perspectives are forever changed? Does a child learn to trust or not to trust in one moment or do they spend a lifetime trying to discern the difference?