The Sandwich Nazi is a documentary portrait of Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil. His customers call him Sal. Anyone who thinks Canadians are dull and boring has not met this guy.
Sal has a dirty mouth and a big heart. Viewers can assess some of his other parts in the last moments of the film.
Sal was born into a large family in Lebanon. He left home at an early age for assorted reasons. He lived in 18 countries before coming to Canada in 1979 and he has the photos to prove it. I didn’t hear him name our city, but it looks like he lived here in Montreal for a while.
When he was no longer “young and pretty” he went into the deli buiness, with La Charcuterie Delicatessen, a “Scandinavian place with a French name” being the most recent one. In addition to sandwiches, he sells imports you probably won’t find at your local supermarket. Customers are fond of the pickled asparagus from Denmark. When someone calls to ask if he has “Norwegian cooking chocolate” he says there’s probably some in the back. (You can see that chocolate on the La Charcuterie’s web site and lots more – Viking Bread, Norwegian fishballs, many cheeses, condiments, cookies, candy and sweets, including the very yummy Anthon Berg Marzipan Plum in Madeira. The site includes a recipe for Danish meatballs! )
(Looking at that website made me want to visit Montreal’s La Vieille Europe on St. Laurent, since it might have some of those things.)
Sal has many stories to tell, most of them crude. He says he used to be a male escort who could be hired by men or women. He says he has also been a very successful sperm donor (twins!) for women who did not have (or want) a male partner.
He tells these stories to his customers as he prepares their sandwiches. They’re an extra garnish, you might say. Are they all true? Are some exaggerated? Who knows? Who cares?
The sandwiches themselves are HUGE. Sal says they’re the best in the world and his customers seem to agree. Don’t go the film on an empty stomach.
The film’s title is a reference to the “soup Nazi” from the Seinfeld TV show. That guy made great soup but customers could be banished forever if they did not obey his many rules. Sal has rules, too; payment is cash only and he demands politeness and respect from his clients. For the most part, he seems to get it. We only hear one or two banishment stories.
As far as I can recall, the “soup Nazi” did not have any redeeming qualities beyond his culinary talents. In contrast, Sal and his army of volunteers prepare meals and distribute them to the poor and the homeless of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on a regular basis. He treats those people with warmth and respect and they are obviously happy to see him and his food. He feeds the volunteers, as well. We learn about many other good deeds in the film.
The documentary was made over several years. On more than one occasion, Sal says he will return to Lebanon to visit his family, even naming a departure date. But he doesn’t go. When he’s finally ready to make the trip, the film crew wants to accompany him, but his family says no. Sal documents things himself, and shares his footage with the filmmaker and viewers upon his return. This includes a hair-raising, high-speed drive through a sniper-infested area – not something that happens on your average vacation.
The Sandwich Nazi is one of the hundreds of films being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinéma. Read more about The Sandwich Nazi on the FNC web site.
The Sandwich Nazi, directed and edited by Lewis Bennett
Original Version In English, 72 minutes long
Tuesday Oct. 13, 2015, 21:30
Cinéma du Parc 1, 3575 Ave, du Parc