Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Very oddly feminist: Emile Ben-Shimon & Shlomit Nehama's THE WOMEN'S BALCONY

Giving new -- or at least added -- meaning to that statement, It's all relative, the new Israeli movie THE WOMEN'S BALCONY takes what TrustMovies has long felt was a reactionary and backward idea of the Jewish faith (Orthodox style, at least) -- having the women sit in a separate balcony location, away from those more important males gathered downstairs -- and turning the need for a new balcony, once the old one collapses, into a feminist cause célèbre around which the women must unite or face further geographical estrangement from the men in the temple.

The film, which proved to be the biggest box-office hit of the year in Israel, treads an interesting line between the old-fashioned and the forward-thinking, the reactionary and the yeah-but-let's-make-the-best-of-it attitude. As written by Shlomit Nehama and directed by Emile Ben-Shimon (shown at left), the movie posits a small, enclosed society -- all of which attends the temple -- in which, despite the woman wearing the pretty dresses, they also wear the pants.

From the film's start and throughout, though the men may appear to control, it's the women who call the shots -- but, as usual, in their own withholding or maybe passive-aggressive manner. This is all treated lightly and humorously, though how healthy it actually is over the long haul is another matter. Still, making the best of things ain't a bad idea, right?

When the current rabbi's wife is hurt in the collapsing balcony and the rabbi is revealed to be, well, a tad demented (had his wife been taking up the slack there, too? We never know), a new and ever more reactionary rabbi sees his chance for advancement, and before you can say male chauvinism supreme, this new guy has taken over, and the ladies are taking to the street in protest.

The set-up here, together with how it all plays out, may be rather fundamental and rudimentary, yet within the specifics of character and event, there is plenty of leeway for fun and surprise. That rotten new rabbi (Avraham Aviv Alush, above) is gorgeous enough to make one imagine he'll be some kind of romantic hero and maybe fall in love with the young pretty girl (Yafit Azulin) who so desperately wants a decent man.

The woman who organizes the other women is pushy and heavy-handed (Evelin Hagoel, above, right), yet what she does is also necessary and important. (She and her husband -- played by the fine Igal Naor, above, left -- clearly are meant to stand in for what's best about Israeli society.) And the males of the congregation, below, while too easily led by the new rabbi's pronouncements -- his treasure-your-women speech early on initially sounds promising, before sliding even further into reactionary bullshit -- are kind-hearted enough to want to do the right thing but just cowardly and stupid enough to have to be pushed hard into it.

The movie wants to have it both ways: Let's celebrate religious faith but still hold on to our humanism. And, yes, it does a pretty fair job of tight-walking this all-too-thin wire. It's feel-good fun, while trying to find a place for orthodoxy in the modern state of Israel. Its popularity at the Israeli box-office testifies to its achievement -- at least for folk who don't want to think too hard about the more difficult problems faced by this little country (see The Settlers and the new Ben-Gurion doc at NYC's Film Forum for that).

The cast is generally excellent and as diverse and interesting as necessary to bring the divide-and-conquer plot (with a nod to Lysistrata) to fruition. It all adds up to pleasant enough mainstream/arthouse entertainment. From Menemsha Films and running 96 minutes, the movie opens here in South Florida this Friday, March 10 -- in Miami at the  AMC Aventura 24; in Ft. Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway Theatre and at The Last Picture Show, Tamarac; in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters and the Regal Shadowood 16 and at the Movies of Delray and the Movies of Lake Worth. In New York City, the film will open on May 26 -- at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the newly renovated Quad Cinema.


One of the stars of the film, popular actor/comedian, Itzik Cohen, shown at right, will fly in from Israel to meet moviegoers at all theaters for Q&A discussions on opening weekend, from March 10 through March 12

For the Q&A schedule, visit the movie's Menemsha Films website

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