Stand-up comic's post-Holocaust guilt

By Desmond Ryan

In approaching the Holocaust, directors - especially in the last decade -- have been willing to try new techniques and approaches to convey the unspeakable enormity to generations for whom it is history, not memory.

To my knowledge, no one has tried focusing on a cross-dressing stand-up comedian tormented by survival guilt, and For My Baby pretty much explains why.

An ill-conceived and overwrought experiment from Dutch filmmaker Rudolph van den Berg, For My Baby is set in Vienna. It was shot in Budapest with a British cast trotting out a range of acting styles and accents. They add to the air of confusion that hangs over the movie like the dark cloud that follows its protagonist, Danny Orgelbrand (a game performance from Scottish comedian Alan Cumming).

Van den Berg has described his film as a Holocaust ghost story. Chiefly, Danny, a comedian with Lenny Bruce's manner but none of his wit, is dogged by the memory of his sister, who perished in the Holocaust. His mother, who has never recovered from the loss of her daughter, is now gravely ill in the hospital. Danny dresses up as his sister to console her during his visits.

Between echoes of Psycho and The Third Man, For My Baby follows Danny in the throes of nightmares whose depiction jars grindingly with a plot involving his new love, her war criminal father, and a Nazi hunter. Whatever the sincerity of his motives, it is way beyond the abilities of van den Berg to hold all this together.

Throughout For My Baby, which is the fourth offering of the 19th annual Jewish Film Festival at the Gershman Y, van den Berg uses images of fire to suggest the gas chambers and crematoriums of the camps. It is intended as a telling metaphor, but it's more of an unwitting image for a movie going up in flames.