I’ve no pretensions of being a scholar in the arena of Jewish history and culture, so I’ll leave it to others to discuss the authenticity of “Fiddler on the Roof” and its source material (the 1964 stage musical of the same name, itself based on Sholem Aleichem’s short story collection, “Tevye and his Daughters”). In Norman Jewison’s film, however, life in the early 20th-century Ukrainian village of Anatevka — a small town with a predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish population — is certainly relatable for anyone who belongs to a marginalized community in the present-day. There’s the constant, threatening presence of the Tsar’s police officers and the locals’ growing anxiety that it’s only a matter of time before they, too, join the ranks of Jewish villagers ordered to leave their homes. Yet, life must go on for Tevye and his family, whose days are filled with joy, love, and woe, just like anyone else’s.
Jewison’s Best Director Oscar nod for “Fiddler” was well-earned. He and his director of photography, Oswald Morris, fill the movie with gorgeous compositions that range from bucolic landscapes to intimate close-ups that capture every minor detail on the actors’ faces, resulting in a film that’s as much a personal character study as it is a flashy musical. It’s also very much the latter, with its amazing songs and dances filmed in wide angles that allow you to appreciate the cast’s every move and gesture, yet dynamically edited together through smash cuts and dissolves so as to avoid feeling like a glorified filmed Broadway show. But with so much of the film’s story regaled from Tevye’s point of view and through his internal conversations with God (a clever adaptation of the character’s asides to the audience on the stage), it really lives and dies on Topol’s performance.