Someone To Watch Over Me – a review of “Unspoken” 

“Unspoken” will be shown on Thursday, May 9 at 7:00 PM during Film Pittsburgh’s JFilm Festival.

"Unspoken". Photo courtesy of Film Pittsburgh.

A witty, acerbic teen, Noam (Charlie Korman), is cleaning out his grandfather’s bedroom, shortly after sitting shiva, when he finds a keepsake box that contains a photograph of his grandfather, Heinrich, sitting in a field with another man. The other contents of this unexpected treasure are equally revealing. The box contains a love letter and an engagement ring.

The items are from a forgotten chapter of the old man’s life, one in Germany shortly before the Holocaust.

Noam suspects that his grandfather was in love with the man in the photo and sets out to learn more. Noam is convinced his mother (Jill Karenbrock) knows more than she’s saying, but she wants to keep her father’s secrets.

Noam returns to school where he is doggedly pursued by Miriam (a delightful Liz Richman), a girl who wants to be more than his friend. His bestie, Zach (a boyishly exuberant Victor Kallett), can’t figure out why he doesn’t ‘go for it’ with Miriam, but the answer is pretty obvious to the rest of us.

Side note: There is always some guileless young girl caught in the crossfire in coming-of-age/coming out flicks. Noam’s vast knowledge of Broadway show tunes and power ballads should have clued her in. 

In their Modern Orthodox high school, the teacher informs the class that over six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Noam’s hand darts into the air and corrects her. He divulges to his classmates that twelve million people were killed in the Holocaust, of which, six million were Jewish. He doesn’t understand why his teacher would leave out the Roma (known by the racial slur, ‘gypsies’), the physically and mentally challenged, and, of course, the homosexuals from the list of dead. 

Wanting him to discover more about the Holocaust, the teacher pairs him up with Jonah (Michael Zap listed as Michael Zapesotsky in the credits) on a school project about the tragic moment in history. Jonah thinks a report about the other unspoken dead is a grand idea, and Noam confides in him about his grandfather’s alleged affair. Jonah is fascinated and eagerly begins pursuing clues about the other man in the photograph.

Noam and Jonah become close as they delve into the mystery of Heinrich and his lost love. In an almost-too-on-the-nose moment, they bond over their love of Hardy Boys Mystery Books.

A furtive glance here, a gentle touch there, and Noam crushes hard on Jonah.

When Noam runs into Kyle (Danny Chon), the one gay gentile he knows, he drops his copy of “The Men of the Pink Triangle,” a book about gay men in Nazi concentration camps. Kyle quips, “A little light reading?”  Noam isn’t ready to share his sexuality with the kid from choir.

Korman does a marvelous job as the closeted young man, hoping to find a greater connection to the past and to the future. He doubles down on teen anxiety and practically leaps out of his skin when anyone says the words, ‘gay,’ or ‘homosexual.’

His yearning for Jonah is electric.

Zap is a charismatic and charming romantic interest. There is a palpable sexual chemistry between the two boys. Zap is hypnotizing, even when pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up on the bridge of his nose.

Writer/director Jeremy Borison has a graceful, delicate touch. The love story is sweet and innocent.

Borison includes a delightful subplot involving Noam’s sister, Tali (JJ Herz listed as Jenna Herz), as she prepares for her wedding. Noam and Tali have a beautiful, uplifting moment at the end of the film. A moment that, most likely, will cause the audience to break out the Kleenex.

“Unspoken” is a magnificent coming-of-age film set in America’s Modern Orthodox Jewish community, with sumptuous cinematography by Benji Dell.

While there are dark themes about the Holocaust and its survivors, “Unspoken” is a joyous and light film about love and acceptance.“Unspoken” will be shown on Thursday, May 9 at 7:00 PM at the Oaks Theater, 310 Allegheny River Boulevard, Oakmont, PA 15139 as part of Film Pittsburgh’s JFilm Festival, the largest Jewish cultural event in the region.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)