Intimate Stranger

Director: Alan Berliner

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


As a Brooklyn kid, Alan Berliner helped his maternal grandfather, Joseph Cassuto, a Palestinian Jew raised in Egypt and subsequently employed in Japan, with his autobiography. Twenty years after Cassuto was accidently killed, Berliner returned to the troves of paper left behind to reassemble his grandfather’s unusual history. Intimate Stranger is an invigorating and spirited look at the peripatetic life and roiling times of one man’s life. It is a personal, yet global, investigation, carried out with the conflicting memories of a fractious family, a fluid sense of cinema, a keen irony, and a deep affection for a very shaded subject. The more Berliner reveals, the more enigmatic his grandfather becomes: each revelation brings new questions. As the facts about Cassuto finally assume the consistency of gelatin, the family destabilizes. What about Cassuto’s wife, Berliner’s lonely grandmother? And what of Cassuto’s children, one of whom is Berliner’s mom? What was the relationship between Cassuto and Berliner’s father, then married into the family? By pursuing the specific, Berliner, good-naturedly but determinedly, leads his audience straight toward a general contemplation of the American dream. Intimate Stranger is documentary storytelling of a very high order.

— Laurence Kardish

Screening Details


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