In early 70s Antwerp a free-spirited, Jewish, philosophy student reluctantly takes a job as nanny to a Hassidic family.
Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe is still best known for popping up in Hollywood blockbusters whenever an oily villain of dubious Central European origin is required (The Fugitive, The Living Daylights, etc.). This time around, though, he gets a shot at life behind the camera, directing himself and a multi-European cast in a film which may have limited appeal but still marks a confident and accomplished directorial debut.
It's early 70s Antwerp, and free-spirited, Jewish, philosophy student Chaja (Fraser from Divorcing Jack) reluctantly takes a job as nanny to a Hassidic family to pay the rent. Having overcome the tensions caused by her irreligious ways and modern dress, Chaja becomes an unlikely confidante to her employer Mrs. Kalman (Rossellini) and forms a loving bond with her four-year-old son Simcha (Adam Monty) who refuses to talk. However, it's the patriarch of the family (Krabbe) who finds it harder to accept her presence, to say nothing of the anti-Semitic concierge in the Kalmans' block.
The concept of an outsider coming face-to-face with devout religion has been done before, but Left Luggage takes the idea a step further, showing that even within the same faith cultures can clash. It's done with a fair degree of humour and tenderness, not least from Chaja's concentration camp scarred parents - mum (Marianne Sagebrecht) spends all day baking cakes, while dad (Maximilian Schell) tramps all over Belgium looking for two suitcases he buried before the war.
But despite pacy action, fine acting from an unglamorous looking Rossellini and the radiant Fraser (reminiscent of a young Julia Roberts), plus intelligent handling of its sensitive subject matter, Left Luggage's reliance on religion and complex Jewish ritual lessens its chances of mainstream success.
It's a pity that a film which otherwise has a great deal going for it ultimately winds up as ghetto-ised as the religious community it portrays.