The Israeli entry for next year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar is a challenging, frustrating examination of the politics of marriage on both sides of an Orthodox Hassidic community in Tel Aviv. 18-year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron) is the youngest daughter in a fastidiously religious family, still reeling from the death of her older sister during childbirth, when her insistent mother suggests that she marry her sister’s widowed husband. Torn between her personal happiness – for she had previously been enjoying the attention of another suitor – and the duty to her family, Shira is forced to decide which is more important.
To outside viewers, the cultural importance of the film’s proposed wedding ceremony will be startling, even shocking. If nothing else, director Rama Burshtein immerses us fully in this world – with sumptuous lensing from Asaf Sudri – getting at the inherent awkwardness and potential unhappiness of arranged marriage, even if it proves this to a painstaking, exhausting degree for a film running in at a mere 90 minutes. Burhstein’s approach is entirely one-note, bashing the viewer over the head with a repetitive carousel of moral stances – specifically that “it’s the right thing to do” – and situations, suggesting, in fact, that a scathing satire of this community’s impenetrable values might have made for a more compelling, malleable and original film.
It navigates a tough dilemma of duty in the already fraught emotional minefield, and its occasional successes can be largely attributed to Hadas Yaron’s thoroughly believable performance; a warm, beautiful screen presence, who in the film’s haunting final scene is chillingly effective, despite the limitations of the script. Ultimately, though, it’s a dreary, tiresome dirge about passion and dis-passion, if memorably performed by impressive lead Hadas Yaron.
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