Four Seasons Lodge
Capturing the bond of Holocaust survivors
Four Seasons Lodge is the name of a Catskills resort catering to Holocaust survivors. As of 2006, they had been vacationing there for 26 years. That summer it appeared the lodge would be closing - “the last season in our paradise,’’ as one resident laments. Filmmaker Andrew Jacobs, a New York Times reporter, spent those months talking to residents, recording their stories, and getting a sense of a remarkable, and unremarkably unexpected, place. This solid, if unexceptional, documentary grew out of a Times series Jacobs wrote.
The lodge is a set of cabins, with central amenities: a dining room, an assembly hall, a pool, and so on. It’s nothing fancy - and, frankly, it’s getting a bit rundown. “It’s a paradise for them,’’ says Hymie Abramowitz, the lodge vice president and the person mainly responsible for upkeep. “It’s not a paradise for me. It’s a labor camp.’’
What makes the place special is neither the facilities (no one would ever confuse it with the other Four Seasons) nor the location (in the heart of the Borscht Belt). It’s the people.
They’re in their 70s, 80s, even 90s. It’s the fourth season of their lives, and they know it. Most of them have thick Eastern European accents (much of the dialogue is subtitled). As befits their status as survivors, they’re tough, argumentative, and unblinking. Everyone has amazing, often horrific experiences to relate. “You remember when the Germans came into Lodz?’’ one man asks as he begins a long description. It’s the way someone would start telling an oft-repeated story at a family reunion.
In fact, the people at Four Seasons Lodge are a sort of family. Sharing bonds none of us can begin to imagine, they naturally sought each other out. What might seem odd at first - that Holocaust survivors should come together in their leisure time - makes perfect sense, as viewers come to know Genia and Olga and Aron and Tobias and Lola and the rest. “We created like a family from our friends,’’ says one, “because we’d lost our family.’’ Or as another puts it, “We are survivors, we stick to each other, like glue.’’
“Four Seasons Lodge’’ has no narrator. Jacobs simply lets us take in the scene (one of the cameramen is the great Albert Maysles). We see card-playing, dancing, and the like. It’s a bit of a jaw-dropper when an entertainer starts to sing “Cabaret.’’ The documentary mostly consists of hearing people talk about themselves, along with slice-of-life footage of lodge routine. There are also some home movies and archival photographs.
The best thing about “Four Seasons Lodge’’ is its subject. The next best is Jacobs’s restraint. There’s nothing hurried or emphatic about his treatment of this material. Eric Lewis’s nicely spare piano score enhances the effect. The final third of the movie does begin to get a bit mawkish - will the lodge really be closing? maybe, maybe not - and, yes, there’s a shot of leaves falling on the lawn. We see residents dancing not just to “Hava Nagila’’ but also “I Will Survive.’’ That’s laying it on a bit thick, but if anyone has a right to revel in the message of that song it’s the residents of Four Seasons Lodge.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.