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By David Finkelstein | December 30, 2003

“Sasha” is a portrait of the filmmaker’s grandmother, who died in 1999, and, by extension, a portrait of the Jewish-American experience. The video is largely a montage of family photos, punctuated by occasional shots of water, ducks, and “the sands of time.” The video is accompanied by Sean Painter’s soft, folky guitar music.

Watching this video is basically the same as looking at someone’s family photo album. In a sense, this is always interesting to do. Family photos can be tremendously revealing of individual character as well as of social history. We see here Sasha as a confident, athletic, intelligent woman. Live action shots in the middle section show her as a widowed, elderly woman, living quite actively and independently, with a warm genrous smile. It is easy to see why she would command intense respect and warm feelings from her grandchildren.
We also see World War II images, picnics, social occasions, all the familiar settings of middle class, mid-century American life.

However, as a viewer, this is not enough for me. I could be interested in looking at anyone’s family album, but, when I watch a work of art, I need some kind of larger statement, vision, or purpose to the work. Newman tries to provide this by evoking the poignancy of the passage of time. We see images which are presumably of baby Newman, assimilatedely sitting on Santa’s knee, and then as an adult. In the last section we see a cute baby girl, presumably the filmmaker’s daughter, possibly named after the grandmother. However, the video offers absolutely nothing original or profound in the way of insights into families, the Jewish American experience, or the passing on of a culture from one generation to the next. Just a familiar, easy, sentimental feeling of nostalgia, which might be quite moving if you happened to be related to the subjects, but is otherwise ultimately uninteresting.

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