Sunday, April 4, 2010

Movie with Abe: Breaking Upwards

In lieu of a review, please enjoy this feature that will appear in the next issue of the Jewish Voice at NYU:

Breaking Upwards
Directed by Daryl Wein
Released April 2, 2010

Breaking Upwards is a movie about two people who aren’t ready to give up completely on their relationship. To see how they cope with spending less time together, they take a few days a week off from contact with each other. Their relationship still functions the same during the rest of the week, but those blocked-off days are reserved for them to live their own lives. Their experiment is a fascinating exploration of what it’s like to move forward without quite putting a romance on hold and the expected challenges semi-monogamy presents. The movie is a look at the lives of two young Jewish twentysomethings as they struggle to navigate the various obstacles that pop up in life.

Daryl Wein and Zoe-Lister Jones star as versions of themselves, and both were heavily involved behind the scenes in the production of the film. They collaborated on the script, and this was Daryl’s first time behind the camera as a director. Daryl and Zoe are both Jewish, and as a result their experiences were incorporated into the movie. A memorable scene takes place at a synagogue meet-and-greet designed to pair off young Jewish singles, and another pivotal scene plays out smack in the middle of a Passover seder. Zoe grew up attending a Conservative synagogue in Park Slope, while Connecticut native Daryl says that his Judaism had more to do with the importance of tradition rather than spiritual values.

Their film can be described as “culturally Jewish,” explains Zoe, and the humor is distinctly Jewish. According to Daryl, they wrote Judaism into the film simply because it’s part of their lives. Daryl cites Woody Allen as a strong influence of his, which becomes quickly apparent with the film’s representation of a family as Jewish in a more of a life-shaping rather than life-guiding fashion. These are secular Jews who go to synagogue on the high holidays and practice Jewish traditions because it’s what they’ve always done. “We wrote what we knew and who we were,” summarizes Zoe. That tactic seems to have worked extraordinarily well considering the general reaction to the film.

Neither of the filmmakers anticipated the extremely positive reception the film has received thus far at Jewish film festivals. They are both very aware that, with the recent release of movies like A Serious Man and An Education, many onscreen representations of Jews are problematic. Because it’s so widely accepted to be a self-loathing Jew, the filmmakers say, there should be more of a perspective presented from Jews themselves. As a nod to the film’s crucial seder scene, Zoe jokes that they are considering making Matzah boxes with the title of the film on them. Daryl and Zoe also emphasize the need for Jews especially to come and see the film since it opens on Easter weekend.

As alumni of NYU, Daryl and Zoe weren’t very involved in the Jewish community. Zoe points out that in acting school, Friday nights are full of play rehearsals. She is, however, optimistic in regard to young Jews who are in currently in art school due to the amazing Jewish arts community in New York City. Daryl encourages aspiring filmmakers to make their own work and be confident. As a young Jew, he recommends, think about the best way to represent Jews in the best light possible, and the same is true for representing Jewish identity. In their opinion, their film stands out particularly because, at Jewish film festivals, there aren’t usually a lot of films about young Jews that feel fresh and hip. Breaking Upwards showcases an unconventional approach to testing the waters in a relationship, and it’s an independent film that, for once, seems to show Jews in a positive way.

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