“The Jewish question still exists, it would be foolish to deny it.” So wrote Theodor Herzl in Der Judenstaat in 1895. His argument for a Jewish state opens the documentary, It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl. Read by Christoph Waltz over images of current turmoil, marching skinheads and anti-Semitic graffiti, Herzl’s case here seems both prescient and never-ending. Opening 10 August at the Quad Cinema, Richard Trank’s film uses photos (augmented by the Ken Burns effect) and diary pages to illustrate the evolution of Herzl’s thinking, as well as his career as a playwright and essayist in Vienna. From his coverage of the Drefyus trial to his appeals to influential families (the Rothschilds) and heads of state, Herzl developed a plan for what would become Israel.
Narrated by Ben Kingsley, the film tracks Herzl’s biography, from his early childhood in Hungary to his education in Vienna, early successes as a playwright, and marriage to Julie Naschauer, daughter of a millionaire industrialist who was less than pleased his son-in-law was an artist. Apparently, there was “trouble between the two” almost immediately, Julie being “very highly strung and neurotic,” but the film doesn’t look into what his domestic situation or his own physical frailties (his heart was damaged by malaria in the 1890s) had to do with his political evolution, his founding of an annual Zionist conference, or his designation as “king of the Jews.” Rather, it offers a reductive straight-line of a narrative, skipping over arguments against Palestine as the preferred location for the Jewish state (as opposed to, say, Argentina or Uganda), and complications visible then and now.