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Two fine movies from the Toronto Film Society

Tags: Arts The 10th Man The Barber of Stamford Hil Toronto Film Society
John Bennett and Megs Jenkins in a scene from The Barber of Stamford Hill.

The Toronto Jewish Film Society, based at the Miles Nadel JCC, is bringing two fine British movies to town on Feb.17 at its Al Green Theatre venue.

The Barber of Stamford Hill, a 64-minute feature film, will be followed by The 10th Man, a 10-minute short. They will be screened at 4 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m.

The Barber of Stamford Hill, directed by Casper Wrede and written by Ronald Harwood, is a warm-hearted character study set in London in the early 1960s. It’s about a lonely Jewish bachelor who pretends to be a married man with two children.

Figg (John Bennett), 50, is an affable chap who regales customers with stories and aphorisms. The man is loquacious, and as he goes off on a tangent about the dying art of shaving, he launches into a soliloquy about the importance of family and the tradition of Friday night Sabbath dinners.

Figg, beautifully portrayed by Bennett, is in fact imagining a life that has tragically eluded him so far.

On Friday evenings, after the business week has ended, he leaves his shop and catches a bus back to his house, an extremely modest flat where no one awaits him with a smile, a hug or a sumptuous hot dinner.

The only person with whom he can share a meal on Friday nights is a speaking-impaired bachelor, Dober (Maxwell Shaw), who plays a mean game of chess.

But as much as he enjoys Dober’s company, Figg longs for something more.

“I’m the kind of fella who should have married,” he says plaintively. “A home – this is what a man needs.”

As Figg, Bennett is a marvel, conveying conviviality and vulnerability in a single sentence or gesture.

On an impulse, he visits Mrs. Werner (Megs Jenkins), a widow across the street with two children whose husband died a decade ago. They chat, munching on cream cheese sandwiches, and their conversation is about family.

“You should find yourself a nice girl and settle down,” she says coyly. Her meaning is clear, but it escapes Figg.

When she suggests they should go out dancing, he lamely claims he is busy. Unperturbed by his obtuseness, she tosses a compliment his way. “You would make a good family man.” He remains untouched by her overture.

Figg knows he’s hopeless. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” he muses as he talks with Dober, played excellently by Shaw.

Wrede directs this black-and-white film with a steady hand and an observant eye, keeping it firm and crisp.

Sam Leifer’s The 10th Man unfolds in a London synagogue as nine elderly men scramble to find a 10th to form a minyan.

Two of the worshippers leave the shul in search of the missing man, but the only person they manage to waylay is a Communist whose atheism shines clearly through.

They return to the synagogue, mission unaccomplished. “I couldn’t find any strays,” grumbles one of the searchers.

Much to their astonishment, someone finally turns up, but the stranger defies their expectations.

Wry and sly, The 10th Man complements The Barber of Stamford Hill exceedingly well.

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