Respecting the halachic tradition of avoiding greeting people on Tisha B’Av, I shall forgo my usual jaunty and nautical cry of “Ahoy” and dive straight into today’s hot topic.
We all know that Tisha B’Av is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. Gloomier than Yom Kippur, more miserable than second night Seder, less cheery than Friday night cholent at your in-laws. Sad, sad, sad. But blow me down like feather if it isn’t also the slowest fast in town.
Tisha B’Av goes on forever and after you’ve read all your kinot and laid tefillin at mincha, you’re still going to be left with a few hours at the end of the day when you’re gnawing at your knuckles waiting for the sun to go down. That’s the time you want to put on a movie and kick back.
But what movie? There are some definite no-nos. No musicals. No horror films. No comedies. No action flicks. No romances. You need something serious but sophisticated. Something uplifting, but not too uplifting. Nothing frivolous. Something that will preserve the somberness of the day without leaving you mawkish and depressed.
So, here we go, this is Pontius Pirate’s list of the top five movies for you to watch on Tisha B’Av.
I thought I’d ease you in gently. Nothing says Tisha B’Av like a Holocaust movie. Even though there’s no explicit link between the fast itself and the Holocaust, I think we can all agree about the efficacy of Spielberg’s masterwork in helping create the right mood for winding down the fast day. Plus with a running time of just over three hours, there should be more than enough here to get you through to ma’ariv.
Believe or not, screening an animated movie does not necessarily breach any of the rules for Tisha B’Av. When The Wind Blows is not your average cartoon. It’s based on an early graphic novel by Raymond Briggs who in turn based his work on a UK government-issued pamphlet detailing how to protect one’s family in case of nuclear fallout. The story is told through the eyes of an older couple who follow the instructions they are given to the letter as they spend their final days in the aftermath of what the experts used to call mutually assured destruction.
3. Malcolm X
This may seem like a left-field suggestion, but it’s based on a personal experience I had with the film. I was late to Blockbusters that year and all the typical Tisha B’Av films had already been taken. I took a chance with the movie having been impressed by the autobiography Malcolm X had written with Alex Haley. It’s a fine film. Denzel has never been better and Spike Lee has rarely been prouder and more nuanced. The arc of the book is Malcolm X’s spiritual journey through the Nation of Islam to Islam culminating in his Hajj. The film may not stick too closely to that journey, but it’s still a moving tale for anyone interested in personal development and self-discovery through religion.
Being both a documentary and an Olympics-themed recommendation for Tisha B’Av movie watching. Kevin Macdonald’s Oscar-winning film uses archive footage and modern day interviews to tell the story of this tragic attack. Forget the politics surrounding the decision not to honor the slain at this year’s opening ceremony. We honor them every day that we gather to compete and to enjoy sports as Israelis.
Another Oscar winner. Ordinary People is an extraordinary movie. It deals with loss, guilt, therapy and catharsis without ever being pat or trite. Tragedies tear families apart. There is no magic wand to bring them back together. Tolstoy wrote that every unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion. This movie is about just how ordinary that makes them.
So that’s it. My top five movies for getting through the last hours of lamentation. By the time the credits roll, you should be able to eat, shave and put your Crocs away until Kol Nidre.
Leave me a comment if you think of any I’ve missed or if you have recommendations for other movies for fast days.