In his new movie, filmmaker Daniel Burman explores the Buenos Aires of his youth and the people who live there
by Igal Avidan
BERLIN–Usher, who heads a Jewish welfare foundation in Buenos Aires, is an unlikely movie star. But the middle-aged Argentinean Jew, whose real name is Oscar Barilka, is the central figure in Jewish-Argentinian director Daniel Burman’s new feature film, “El Rey del Once” (The Tenth Man).
Usher, playing himself, is almost always off-camera, but he is often heard as he works to bring his son Ariel (played by actor Alan Sabbagh) back to his roots.
“Usher is a real tzadik [righteous person] who doesn’t even know he is one,” says award-winning writer-director Burman, who won the Grand Jury Prize in 2004 for his film “El Abrazo Partido” (Lost Embrace), a comedy-drama about the grandson of Polish Holocaust refugees.
Born to Polish-Jewish immigrants, Burman’s films are largely autobiographical, exploring the complex relationship between father and son, and his Jewish upbringing.
“El Rey del Once”—literally translated from Spanish as “The King of Once”—takes place in the Buenos Aires Jewish neighborhood where Burman grew up. The Times of Israel caught up with Burman last month at the Berlin film festival to find out more about his movie.
What made you decide to make a film in the old Jewish quarter of Buenos Aires?
The idea of the film came to me when I met Usher as I was preparing for another film about Jews making pilgrimages to the graves of famous rabbis in Russia, Ukraine and Poland. Usher organized the Argentinean-Jewish travel group and I knew that I could join it only if he approved. During that time I got to know more about him and his foundation and all the wonderful volunteers who give to the local community.
The foundation in the film really exists. Its employees and those who benefit from Usher’s charity work—underprivileged Jews—are also part of the film. I think Usher is one of the one the most impressive people who I’ve met. I think he is one of the 36 hidden tzadikim referred to in the Talmud.
Full interview in Times of Israel here.