Hebrew/French with English subtitles
I’ve put off reviewing this movie because of how much the ending bothered me. It’s easier if I either love or hate a movie, or feel completely indifferent, but this movie drew me in, engaged me, and then I felt dropped from the sky by the turn of events.
This movie follows Noemi, a young Israeli woman engaged to be married who has just lost her mother. She’s clearly very intelligent and introspective and has soaked up every last one of her rabbi father’s teachings.
The sexism in the movie becomes apparent right away, as Michael, the fiance, dismisses Noemi’s conversation with her sister as “idle women’s chatter”. While he is in yeshiva, apparently she’s supposed to be cleaning house and darning socks. Instead, she postpones the wedding and goes to a “women’s yeshiva” which is somewhat controversial.
Her roommates are all there for different reasons. Sheine, is looking for a husband, and apparently the headmaster of the school is also somewhat of a matchmaker. Sigi, is new to orthodoxy, so does not know the correct words/texts, but is zealously trying to learn. Lastly, Michel, is a smoking, swearing hotty, sent to the yeshiva against her will from her home in France, to “reform” her.
Noemi and Michel are paired up in visiting the home of a prisioner- a French woman named Anouk who had been jailed for murder. Whereas Noemi is a play by the rules, shut down emotion kind of girl, Michel (who is the only one who can speak French to Anouk) wants to hear the women’s story and help her out. Turns out the woman is dying of cancer, and wants to atone in some way for her sin.
The girls begin to bond when they decide to do secret rights or “tikuns” to cleanse Anouk. These are derived from the kabbalah, and Anouk has already been told by the rabbis in the area that she cannot perform then- she may not be cleansed of so great a stain- AND on top of it, she’s not even Jewish. Technically only rabbis (ie, men), can perform these rituals, but the girls decide to try. You can see Noemi salivating at the challenge to use her great knowledge in a practical sense.
In the process of helping Anouk, the girls befriend Yanki, a pharmacist assistant/klezmer musician with a light touch and a gentle soul. To help her friend, Michel decides to ask Yanki out on a date so that she can double with Noemi and her fiance. This does not go well. Michael, besides not taking women seriously, doesn’t believe in laughing, or the worth of non Yeshiva attending males.
Noemi takes Michel home for the holidays with her and it only takes one slumber party to find the two all over each other, in a bizarre “scratch my back”/dry hump sort of faux sex scene. They wake in each others arms and contrary to what I thought would happen, Michel is the one who freaks out and runs away.
Back at school the women are drawn back together by Anouk. Noemi sites scripture as not having anything to say about what they had done/felt as a sin- so it’s back on. After drawing their roommates into the rituals with Anouk, things start going terribly wrong. I won’t tell you what happens, but this is where I started not liking the way the story was going. I can’t say I hated it, but I think I felt really drawn to Noemi’s plight, to her sadness and intensity, to how she held on to her religion and her rituals, even as she was being shunned by her family. She is trying to step outside the confines of her neat, little box and no one but her thinks it’s a good idea.
This movie effected me and drew me in, so in that sense, it was definitely worth watching. It does not tie everything up neatly in a bow, which I like, especially in lesbian movies. I want girl meets girl on dyke campus and live happily ever after, but I know this movie is probably in some ways a truer picture.
3 stars- “Garfield, meet Sylvester”
I really like the hot scholarly type.