American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
My mother's favorite episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was not one of the certified classics, like the one with the walnuts, but rather the one in which middle-aged comedy writer Buddy Sorrell was belatedly bar mitzvahed. God, she would have loved "Hava Nagila: The Movie," a slight, but very satisfying, and at times, surprisingly moving, documentary about the inescapable Jewish anthem and wedding and bar mitzvah music staple.
But you don't, as the old saying goes, have to be Jewish to enjoy it. Because everyone knows "Hava Nagila." It is an instantly recognizable musical cliché on par with "Kumbaya," a pervasive earworm so irresistibly catchy, yet so cheesy that even "It's a Small World" might be moved to protest, "Please, make it stop."
"It's not just a song, it's an event," offers Josh Kun, one of the academics who speaks on the mystery, history and meaning of "Hava Nagila." "It's a song that screams, 'This is a Jewish song.'"
Not everyone is happy about that. Counters Henry Sapoznik, founder of KlezKamp, a Yiddish folk arts program, "It's relentless, resilient, but so are cockroaches. … It represents for multitudes of people Jewish music and that's all that they will ever know."