"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Secrets by Avi Nesher

My sister, Dr. Ellen Feingold, is a pediatrician who has specialized in homeopathy, teenage gynecology and eating disorders. She recently had the opportunity to see Avi Nesher's Secrets, and shares the following posting with us --

Secrets, a 2007 Israeli film directed by Avi Nesher, was nominated for 8 Israel Film Academy awards. It was the Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival and Best Feature Winner of the Jackson Hole International Film Festival.

Secrets is the absorbing, engrossing, riveting story of a young Orthodox Jewish woman, Naomi, daughter of a fairly modern rabbi, engaged to a prominent scholar at her father’s yeshiva. As the film opens, Naomi’s mother has just died.

As a result of Naomi’s grief for her mother, she resolves to attend a girls’ yeshiva in Tsfat, to devote herself to learning rather than rushing to get married. Since her father has emphasized learning in his household and has taught Naomi himself, she is able to convince him to allow her to delay her engagement and go to learn for one year.

Naomi and her 3 roommates at the girls’ yeshiva form the nucleus of the film. Naomi is the learned one. Michelle, a wayward girl from France, is the wild one. Sigi, the ba'al teshuva, is always overdoing mitzvot and determining morality for everyone else. The fourth girl, fat and food obsessed, comes to the yeshiva solely to find a husband.

Naomi and Michelle become embroiled in 3 secrets: they share a lesbian relationship; they become the main emotional support for a sick (but Christian) French woman, Anouk, to whom the girls’ yeshiva delivers food parcels; and they enter into kabbalistic rituals to cleanse Anouk of her previous sins (which are themselves secrets) so she can die without fear.

The first secret, Naomi and Michelle having a lesbian relationship, is never revealed (except to us) but nevertheless, it is the overriding secret of the film. The sex scene, left mostly to the imagination, between Naomi and Michelle is beautifully photographed and directed. Somehow Naomi is able to rationalize that lesbians are not hated by G-d, the way homosexual men are, because they do not spill seed.

The second secret, Anouk’s emotional dependence on Michelle and Naomi and theirs upon her, is curtailed as soon as the third secret, that the girls have entered into forbidden kabbalistic rituals becomes known by the headmistress. The chief rabbi of Tsfat demands that the headmistress dismiss Naomi and Michelle. And so the girls are reprimanded and sent home.

Naomi, we realize, is never to marry. Her father and ex-intended are thoroughly disgusted with her: how dare she step into the realms meant for men alone? Michelle is less able to be content with a lifetime of lesbianism and ultimately marries a kind, gentle, modern Orthodox man, Yankl, whose joy in life is to play the klezmer clarinet.

The film is a fascinating glimpse into how women are perceived and treated in orthodox Judaism. Imagine, an accident of birth determining the limits of your intellectual growth! If you are born with a complement of XX chromosomes instead of XY, you are doomed to a lifetime of stunted development. One wonders how fathers, grandfathers, and brothers, mothers, grandmothers, and sisters all allow the stunting of fifty percent of their population, telling themselves, it is G-d’s will.

If you’ve missed this one, be sure to rent it. It will help you stand up against injustice everywhere.

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