The Last of the Wild Jews

Published: December 21st 2010
in Culture » Movies

Mordecai Richler

The latter portion of 2010 has become decidedly saturated with all things Mordecai Richler. There is the acclaimed biography from Charles Foran, Mordecai: The Life and Times that came out earlier in the fall. Not to mention the much-anticipated screen adaptation of Barney’s Version, opening in theatres December 24th. Now, there is the documentary, Mordecai Richler: The Last of the Wild Jews, airing on Bravo December 25th. Co-written by Foran, and directed by Quebec filmmaker Francine Pelletier, the hour long film makes a compelling thesis of the idea that Richler was part of a Jewish cultural explosion, both literary and popular culture that transpired for roughly two decades in the 20th century. “He was one of a whole generation of writers – but not just writers, also entertainers – who are sons of immigrants, born here in big North American cities, brought up in the shadow of the Holocaust, and became these natural-born agitators and who wanted desperately to break with the idea of the timid little Jewish boy. Not caring what the goy think, criticizing Jewish culture and having a helluva time. Mordecai was part of that. Once you understood that, I think you understand him better.” Pelletier explained to the Montreal Gazette.


The film examines how Richler was a member of this rebel generation that included Saul Bellow, Norman Mailler, and Philip Roth amongst others, who worked hard, played hard, and rattled as many cages in the process. It can be traced back to Issac Babel (whom Richler idolized, we learn from the film) who chronicled the “wild Jews” (gamblers, con men et al) of Odessa during the Russian Revolution.


Through insightful interviews and anecdotes from those who knew Richler best, the famously contrary writer in public, is revealed to be a shy, reserved, complex individual in private. Margaret Attwood, Jack Rabinovitch (a friend since high school), cartoonist Terry Mosher, Adam Gopnik from the New Yorker and Rex Murphy, all offer their respective insights from Richler’s early days living in London, to his late-career attacks on Québécois nationalism. By far, the most poignant moments come courtesy of Richler’s dignified widow, Florence who divulged that she always understood that his work would come first, and she second. That said the pair were together for four decades.


Mordecai Richler: The Last of the Wild Jews airs again on Bravo Saturday, December 25 at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.

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