The film, based off the famous, live musical, begins with a poor milkman, named Tevye. He narrates to the audience about his life, people, their traditions, and culture.
Different shots of multiple settings, show up every second. The majority take place inside the synagogue. They include Hebrew letters, a menorah, and other parts of the interior.
Tevye emphasizes how much everyone cares about the beloved rabbi, too.
He also brings up a group of people that neither they, nor his type, get along with. One line he says that stands out to me is, “We don’t bother them. They don’t bother us.”
That might have referred to the Pale of Settlement during the early 1900s. It allowed Jews to reside in certain areas in Eastern Europe, but nowhere else.
Tevye finalizes with a man who stays up on a rooftop, and does nothing but fiddle on a violin. He plays music as the credits reveal the cast and crew.
Not long after, Tevye’s oldest daughter, Tzeitel, complains to her mom, Golde, about not wanting to marry an old man, named Lazar Wolf. The village matchmaker had arranged for her to wed him, despite the age differences between the two.
Later, Tzeitel’s other teenage sisters, Hodel and Chava, express interest in receiving potential husbands from the matchmaker, as revealed in the song, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”
Tevye also sings about what he wishes his life had if he lived with a lavish amount of money, as revealed in the song, “If I Were a Rich Man.”
Later, he and some other men dance as a way to celebrate Tzeitel’s marriage to Lazar. However, not long after, Tzeitel reveals her actual love interest, Motel, whom she’s loved for years. She begs Tevye not to make her marry Lazar. After resisting at first, Tevye allows Tzeitel to marry Motel.
At some point, Golde wakes Tevye, who states that he had a strange dream, where Golde’s deceased grandma said that Tzeitel should marry Motel. But Lazar’s latest wife disapproves of that. If the two marry, she would want to murder them.
Not long after, all the villagers hold candles as they make their ways to Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding. At this point, Golde walks Tzeitel down the aisle to Motel, while Tevye gives the two a dirty look.
While the ceremony happens, Golde and Tevye produce internal songs in their minds about how they view their eldest daughter marrying her love interest.
Tzeitel also removes her veil – but she and Motel do not kiss. After that, Motel steps on the glass underneath a folded napkin, a tradition at Jewish weddings. Then the celebration begins with bobbing Tzeitel and Motel up in chairs, also a Jewish custom at weddings, and even bar and bat mitzvahs.
Everyone dances, followed by a group of men performing a special dance with glass bottles on their heads.
More dancing continues until everyone gets to have dinner. Someone also provides live chickens as gifts to the newly-wed Tzeitel and Motel. Every time Motel rises, though, Tevye forces him back into his seat.
But fights break out, and Tevye yells a lot during them. Somebody reminds them not to argue, because a wedding is time for celebration.
More dancing continues… until the Russian military invade, thus ruining Motel and Tzeitel’s big day. They burn other things in the Jewish village. Even though that put his family in danger, Tevye forces them to clean up the damage.
Then there is a black screen, with some instrumental music, as a form of intermission.
After that, the second act begins!
Months have passed since then. Hodel brings her boyfriend, Percheck, to ask Tevye for his blessing to let them marry. He sees that as asking for his permission, which he denies. Yet, he allows it, even if that leads the two needing to move to Siberia.
Tevye starts to understand marrying someone for love, yet still can’t get a grasp on it. He and Golde sing about being married for 25 years in the number, “Do You Love Me?”
Even though they didn’t meet until the day of their wedding, they acknowledge all the good things they’ve done for each other. Then they realize that they do love each other.
Meanwhile, Chava has a love interest in a guy named Fyedka, who is Christian. When she asks Tevye for his blessing to let her marry him, he is appalled, and says that she and he can only be distant friends. He even states that some things will never change, and compares Chava’s desire to marry Fyedka to a bird living with a fish.
Later, Chava, who worries about what her father will say when she askes to marry Fyedka, follows him. She struggles to produce the question, but eventually does. Tevye thinks about the traditions of their religion… and screams, “No!” at Chava, which makes her cry. Then he disowns her.
Stakes rise as the Russian military prepares to threaten the Jewish communities, and might force them to leave the country. Everybody in that village fears that.
Like many movies, regardless of genre, “Fiddler on the Roof” starts out lighthearted, but conflict increases, as does the intensity, the stakes, and tones, which includes somber ones.
At the same time, Tevye starts out calm and likable, but becomes harsher, unempathetic, which makes him more displeasing—not just to the other characters, but also to the audience—as least to me.
During the beginning of the movie, though, Golde displeased the other characters as well as myself. For example, Tzeitel complains to her about not wanting to marry Lazar Wolf because he’s bald—which she’s WAY too old to do.
Yet, rather than reminding Tzeitel that she shouldn’t do that, Golde’s response is, “You want a man with hair? You marry a monkey.”
I thought to myself, Shouldn’t Tzeitel know better at that age? Wasn’t she taught long before the events of this story not to discriminate against people for being bald, especially because it wasn’t their choice to lose their hair, which is a common sign of aging?
If neither she, nor Tevye, had taught her, or the other girls, not to discriminate against people for being bald, then that makes them irresponsible. In that scene, Tzeitel says that she’s not even 20. So, I assume she’s 19.
Teaching your child not to discriminate against people due to having no hair is something you need to do early in his or her life—otherwise, he or she will have to keep reminding him or herself that.
But maybe Golde did teach Tzeitel not to discriminatie against those who are bald when she said that line quoted after Tzeitel complained about marrying a man with no hair – just in an indirect way. Golde could’ve meant that “marrying a monkey” meant marrying someone with bad manners. Hopefully, Tzeitel understood.
Golde also has super-strict rule about everyone being in time for sabbath prayer. While I understand that, there is eventually a scene where a private teacher educates the two youngest daughters, presumably between ages 9 and 12. He teaches them about the events in ancient times relating to the Jews, such as the story of Moses.
Not long after, Golde interrupts them and yells, “Enough learning! Get back to work!” I thought to myself, Gee, what a jerk.
So, I found it ironic that she becomes more likeable, while Tevye becomes the opposite as the film progresses. There are other moments that I also found odd.
One is during the musical number, “Do You Love Me?” and all the good things Golde and Tevye have done, despite meeting on their wedding day 25 years prior. Golde tasted the soup she was cooking, but put the spoon back into the pot. I thought, Eww, she just put her germs in that.
That is considered bad manners and unsanitary, even if you’re not sick. She should have dripped a small amount of the soup onto another spoon and tasted it from there.
While still discussing sanitation, I also found the idea of gifting a bride and groom with live chickens a health hazard in an indoor setting not designated for animals. But maybe that occurred at Eastern European weddings in 1905, the year the story takes place.
Other parts that surprised me about Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding was that no one else dresses up, besides them. All the girls, including the older ones, like Hodel and Chava, wear ribbons in their hair.
Everyone also produces internal thought songs – which suggests that the ceremony is done in complete silence as Tzeitel and Motel light candles.
I would find that awkward in real life. You’d think there would be zemirot, which are a group of Hebrew hymns, as Tzeitel and Motel it the candles, followed by a notary asking them traditional marriage questions, like, “Do you agree to honor and care for each other as long as you live together?”
I understand that the internal thought songs need to progress the plot. Yet, there could have been some way for both that and the notary’s questions to happen at different times. I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine wedding ceremonies being done in pure silence in the early 1900s.
What I also didn’t expect was that the entire village attends the wedding. But maybe because Jews who lived in Russia had to reside in designated villages, everybody shared close relationships to each other. And to the point where they would go to the weddings of others in their communities.
I especially had fun watching the characters dance. The part when a group of men do a special dance with the glass bottles on their heads impressed me, particularly since none of them fall and brake.
Of course, they dance more slowly, but their moves still impressed me. I would not have been surprised if that scene had to be shot numerous times, which still occurs in movie-production today.
The rest of the dancing intrigued me. Unlike how people today dance at parties, where they make random moves—the characters dance in ways that follow their traditions, but still have fun, since many of them smile.
Hodel and Chava enjoy it, as well, since they dance with some guys. I kept rooting for them, thinking, Go, Hodel, go Hodel, and, Go, Chava, go, Chava.
But the wedding scene is not the only part with characters dancing. The deceased family members in Tevye’s dream dance. It also sets a paranormal, Halloween-like mood, because it shows the raising of the dead.
Some awaken like zombies, but they all appear as ghosts, including couple of little girls.
The major part that displeased me
I think the dream is what changes Tevye for the rest of the film, growing worse. I loathed when he demanded that his family tidy up the damage the Russian soldiers had caused – particularly since it was his own daughter’s wedding.
Any of the guests could have died from the invasion, including his own family. And I don’t think trauma would cause others to force them to clean up messes that dangerous people caused when trying to kill them.
Tevye also becomes irrational at times when angry. One notable example occurs after several months had passed.
Tzeitel and Motel not only had a baby, but also a sewing machine. Golde tells him that she wants him and the other daughters, who have not yet married, to go home. But Tevye yells that he wants to see the sewing machine. He opens the door to where the item is for a second and then slams it.
I just didn’t get that – I made a facepalm because of that decision. Tevye had no interest in the sewing machine prior to that.
The decision he made that upset me the most was when he roared at Chava, forbidding her to marry Fyedka. As Chava cried, my eyes watered as I felt her pain. I even put my hand on my heart, saying out loud, “I feel you.”
Speaking of which, I found Chava to be the character that I could relate to the most from this film. Not just when a tear of joy spills out of her eye as she watches Tzeitel marry Motel, but how she loves Fyedka for who he is and how he treats her, even though he isn’t Jewish, like she is.
How do I relate?
I am also the kind of person who will not stick to strict guidelines that my cultural background provides. Rather, I will be who want to be, and desire to maintain the freedom to make my own choices, regardless of my culture’s standards.
My mom was more of the opposite in the past, but has become a lot more relaxed in the early to mid-2010s. My dad, however, did what I did when it came to making choices.
Yet, Tevye never changes after harshening himself. I won’t spoil the ending. However, I found it disappointing that Tevye did not learn to empathize with others or realize how much he had hurt some of them, particularly Chava.
I also considered it completely ignorant of Tevye to compare a Jew living with a Christian to a bird living with a fish. Obviously, he is too close-minded to realize they are same type – they, and everybody else, are human beings, and the same on the inside.
Although Chava is not present in this scene following the scene where Tevye yells at her not to marry Fiedka (which she actually did anyway), he says, “She’s dead to me.”
Eventually, Chava and Fyedka come back to him for an important reason. While Chava tries talk to Tevye, he not only says nothing, but also doesn’t look at her.
Excuse him! His daughter, whom he yelled at and disowned, goes out of her way to see him for something crucial, and he ignores her? I even said out loud to him, “You owe Chava an apology.”
Sadly, that never happens. But I wish he did apologize to her about screaming at her when she wanted to marry Fyedka, after not responding to her – in that same scene. It should have happened then.
In every story, the main character must grow and change to where she or she is a different person at the end of the same tale.
Even if Tevye apologized to Chava about how he reacted to her wish to marry Fyedka after this tale’s events, it still would have left me unsatisfied since he should have done during this story.
That being said, in the second half of the movie, Tevye does reflect on the memories of his 3 teenage daughters and when they had good times, even though he is not in those thoughts. The girls are portrayed as faded figures, and Tevye sings about how he will miss them.
The Strange Surprise
Although he still has his two youngest daughters, the matchmaker, who originally arranged a marriage between Tzeitel and Lazar Wolf, finds 2 boys, who are likely a little bit older than them. She does so because of the stress she is experiencing due to the Russian military’s power, and how they are treating the Jews.
While I found odder was when Golde had to go outside for something essential and told the girls to remain inside. Even though she only goes out briefly, the matchmaker stays with them.
I understand that she does not want them outside the house during perilous times. But I was under the impression that she would have the matchmaker babysit them, which doesn’t happen since she only steps outside for a few minutes at most.
Believe it or not…
Unlike when I first saw this movie in the fall of 2021, my opinion of it changed when I watched it again a year later.
Originally, I had found it just okay, and that too many moments have not aged well. But I think that’s because of people being too sensitive in recent years leading up to that point.
They would find things too prejudicial easily, even if they weren’t supposed to be. They would consider minor exclusions or certain mistreatments as being racist, sexist, etc.
That affected me, too – except unintentionally. Thankfully, though, I have not noticed that since 2022. So, my thoughts on “Fiddler on the Roof” are a lot different now.
Some of the pleasing aspects remain the same.
One is how all of Tevye’s daughters have super-long hair, as if they could never get haircuts, and how Tevye sounds a bit like Hagrid from “Harry Potter.”
The musical numbers, “If I Were a Rich Man,” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” still remain my favorite songs from the movie.
There are still a couple of displeasing moments that remain the same.
An example is when a few villagers argue over a horse’s age, saying that it’s 6 or 12. I thought, Oh my God! I don’t care about the horse’s freaking age!
The other is the dance scene right after Tevye was excited to marry Tzeitel off to Lazar Wolf, since I felt that it lagged a bit.
At first, I gave “Fiddler on the Roof” 3 out of 5 stars. But now I rate it 4 out of 5 stars. The biggest pitfall was Tevye’s lack of growth and change after mistreating others, aside from his teenage daughters.
Over, “Fiddler on the Roof” is a good movie, and I recommend it to everyone.
What part stood out to you the most? What did you think of Tevye based on what I shared about him? Does this movie sound appealing to you?
4 thoughts on “Review of “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971)”
I think it was hypocritical for Tevye to tell his daughters not to discriminate against anyone, but then judges Chava for liking Fyedka due to his looks and religion.
I actually never specify about Tevye neglecting his daughters to learn not to discriminate against those who are bald. But Golde might have taught Tzeitel not to do so in a subtle way.
The backdrop to the musical is not the same as that in the original stories by Scholem Rabinowitz (pen-name Scholem Aleichem – a pun on the traditional Jewish greeting Shalom Aleichem – peace to you.) In the years immediately preceding the Revolution the tension between the Tsarist forced and the people was lethal, with the Jews forming the flashpoint between both blocs. Pogroms – the Russian word means “kill-in” – were frequent and savage, often initiated by the Cossack militia known as the Black Hundreds; priests and peasants alike encouraged the odious “Blood Libel” the fiction that Jews at Passover used the blood of Christian children to flavour their matzot (unleavened wafers. Jews are forbidden to consume blood in any form.) It is interesting that 1905, the year in which Fiddler is set, also saw the publication in Russia of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a piece of warped fantasy which nevertheless became an Urtext for the Nazis, but for respected figured such as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. In this furnace it is hardly likely that the alliance between a Jewish girl and a Christian soldier bent on evangelising her would have been viewed kindly, though this provides the existential tragedy to the show, along with the family’s heart-rending departure to a New World of unknown propensity.
I didn’t know that.