2004, Movie, NR, 84 mins


If you think watching a bunch of 80-ish broads paddling around a Viennese swimming pool isn't your idea of a good time at the movies, think again. This hugely entertaining and wonderfully warm documentary is a well-deserved celebration of a group of headstrong Jewish women who virtually define the term "moxie." They're the champion women swimmers of the Hakoah, the legendary Jewish sports club that, with 3,000 active members, once ranked as the largest athletic institution in the world. Established in 1909, the Hakoah Vienna was a response to Austria's long-standing Aryan Clause, which forbade Jews to join political, student and social clubs. Striking out on their own without the support of their "Aryan" compatriots, the Jews of the Hakoah soon proved a major force in European athletics. The Hakoah's soccer team was the first ever to defeat their English counterparts on English soil and, in 1935, the Hakoah Vienna swept the second Maccabiah — the so-called "Jewish Olympics" — held in Tel Aviv. In the face of the growing Nazi threat, the physically fit athletes of the Hakoah Vienna projected an image that was strikingly different from the ugly, anti-Semitic caricatures being disseminated across Europe, but the teams' glories were not to last. When Hitler finally annexed Austria during the Anschluss in 1938, the Nazis quickly closed down the Hakoah Vienna for good. Writer-director Yaron Zilberman's engaging film focuses on the fabulous ladies of Hakoah Vienna's women's swim team, many of whom defied stern edicts from their disapproving families to don bathing costumes (one proudly displaying the Star of David across the chest), train under the tireless Zsigo Wertheimer and compete in public. Zilberman contacted as many survivors as he could find and asked if they'd be interested in both sharing their memories and reuniting in Vienna for a dip in the beautiful public pool where they once practiced. Several agreed and the film Zilberman built around their remarkable stories offers a priceless picture of the Jewish life in Vienna that vanished with the Nazi onslaught, as well as of brave resistance and survival under the most dire circumstances. Each woman is a terrific interview, and if the climactic vision of these still beautiful ladies gliding through the water doesn't bring a lump to your throat, you surely have no heart. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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