Friday, September 23, 2016

TIFF 16- Film Review - The Women's Balcony (Ismach Hatani)

Religious devotion, division between the sexes, comparing yourself to your neighbour and fighting for your rights are thorny topic that fully on display in Emil Ben Shimon's new film. The story starts and ends with two significant events a bar mitzvah at the outset and a wedding to conclude. In between the members of an Orthodox synagogue in a small Jerusalem community interact, love and fight amongst each other after a catastrophic events strike their synagogue.

The film opens with all the members of the community headed happily down the narrow cobbled streets to their synagogue for a bar mitzvah. During the event as the candies rain down from the balcony that houses the female worshipers collapses putting the Rabbi's wife in a coma and incapacitating the Rabbi. The male worshipers gain a champion in Rabbi David (Avraham Aviv Alush) a staunchly religious man who makes it his single goal to restore the local synagogue to the delight of the men. However his interpretation of God's word is much stricter that their regular Rabbi leading to cracks in the community between those that see themselves as more devoted than others. The split hits a breaking point when first; the synagogue is restored without a women's balcony then when the women raise the funds for the balcony Rabbi David declares that the funds must go to another religious item instead.

Director Shimon uses humor and comedic timing very effectively in the film. The device is especially evident when the faithful debate amongst themselves their level of devotion. The comedic element also helps to defuse many highly contentious religious issues.

Ettie excellently portrayed by Evelin Hagoel and her Husband Zion (Igal Naor) are the most secular of the group and even they are split apart by the influence of Rabbi David. The Rabbi's passionate speeches implanted the idea in the men that their spouses are not modest enough in the face of God directing the men to purchase scarves for their wives to cover their heads which each spouse accepts to varying degrees. But its Rabbi David's freezing of the funds raised by the women  that unites them leading to a mass walk out and protest in front of the Rabbi's seminary.    

The Women's Balcony is an excellent commentary on how a happy and healthy community can be upset by an unexpected series of events. One should also be wary of seemingly pious saviours that falls into your midst. A community will gain more in the long run by banding together to reach a solution with equal input from everyone even if it's a slower and harder process over a quicker and easier route that could lead to more work to mend relationships in the end.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

The Women's Balcony | Emile Ben Shimon | Israel | 2016 | 96 Minutes.

Tags: Bar Mitzvah, Synagogue, Sabbath, Orthodox, Rabbi, Gender, Protest, Wedding, Fruit Salad.


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