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Esther Kahn is the intriguing tale of a young Jewish girl (Summer Phoenix) who rises to be a leading actress of her day, playing the title role in the London premiere of Ibsen's classic play Hedda Gabler. Esther's childhood is captured in strangely fragmented scenes that coalesce into a vivid portrait of life in a Jewish slum. As Esther takes to the stage, the movie's focus sharpens, particularly as she undergoes training at the hands of an older actor (Ian Holm, always magnetic). In childhood, Esther kept her feelings deeply submerged to protect herself from her family's mockery. Now, to expand her talent, she sets out to experience love--with consequences that may lead to disaster. The script and direction of Esther Kahn are intriguing; unfortunately, Phoenix portrays Esther's offstage numbness more effectively than her onstage talent. --Bret Fetzer
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