As evidenced by the dozens of horrible movies that he coproduced as a partner in Cannon Films, Menaham Golan was a filmmaker who believed in excess. Yet his directorial efforts prove that he possessed some small measure of skill, and that he occasionally gravitated toward worthwhile subject matter. In the war between the two halves of his cinematic identity, however, it seems the vulgarian always came out on top. Consider The Magician of Lublin, a film version of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel. The cast includes Alan Arkin, Louise Fletcher, Lou Jacobi, Valerie Perrine, and Shelley Winters. The opulent production values include vivid re-creations of Poland circa the early 1900s. And the lofty storyline touches on anti-Semitism, greed, lust, and mysticism. Alas, virtually nothing in The Magician of Lublin works. Even when the occasional scene is moderately well-written, some directorial choice makes the moment feel false. And whenever Golan reaches for metaphor, he renders clumsy and grotesque melodrama. Seeing as how The Magician of Lublin is about a man capable of charming nearly everyone he meets, this is a spectacularly charmless movie.
Arkin plays Yasha, an obnoxious magician trying to secure lucrative performance contracts even as he juggles multiple romantic entanglements. He keeps company with a whore (Perrine), maintains a sham marriage to a troubled woman (Maia Danziger), and dreams of running away with an aristocrat (Fletcher) who makes it plain she wants a rich husband because her daughter requires costly medical care. All the while, Yasha strings people along with promises of the great things he will do in the future. The storyline gets strange and tragic as the movie grinds through its 105 sluggish minutes, and it’s virtually impossible to care about anyone onscreen. Arkin’s character is an overbearing liar. Fletcher comes off like a zombie, generating zero chemistry with Arkin. Winters is in full harpy mode, spitting and squawking like she was zapped with a cattle prod before every take. Compounding the extremes of these performances, Golan bludgeons every scene with the same flat loudness, ensuring that the narrative lacks either a point of view or a sense of purpose. The Magician of Lublin is exhausting to watch, and the viewer is left with nothing of consequence after the experience.
The Magician of Lublin: LAME