Thursday, November 16, 2017

DOC NYC Spotlight: One of Us

One of Us
Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
Released October 20 on Netflix

Religion has the potential to be oppressive. While many find comfort in the fact that they can pray to a higher power, others get lost and overwhelmed by the preoccupation with sticking to a strict set of regulations. Breaking with an observant community is rarely easy, and in some cases the limited experiences that those who choose to leave have had make their exodus and subsequent immersion into secular society extremely difficult, especially if those within the community try their hardest to make sure that getting out is far from an easy process.

The Hasidic community in Brooklyn, New York is an extremely insular culture that stresses devotion to God as a way of uniting its people in the wake of unthinkable loss during the Holocaust. There are many rules and guidelines in place designed to prevent outside influence from the likes of the Internet and those who do not dress modestly. Women are married off at a young age to men chosen by their families, and usually have many children. This documentary follows three people who make the tough choice that this life is not for them: Etty, a mother caught in an abusive relationship, Ari, a teenager who is trying to overcome addiction, and Luzer, an aspiring actor.

Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady were Oscar-nominated a decade ago for their documentary “Jesus Camp” about evangelical Christians. Now, they’ve returned to the subject of religion to tackle Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Like their previous film, this one doesn’t paint the Hasidic community in any sort of light that resembles positivity. One subject does comment that it can lead to a fulfilling life for others, but most of what is presented focuses on the miserable and unenlightened side of this inescapable society that stifles individuality and creativity.

This searing exposé lives mostly in darkness, permitted access to the community only by those who still associate with Luzer, whose break wasn’t nearly as bad as the other two protagonists, and who still answers the question “Are you one of us?” in the affirmative. This film finds itself at its most intriguing part when it explores what remnants of Jewish observance and practice still comfort its wounded refugees and how their feelings towards anything that resembles what they knew remain incredibly complex. As a story of three people trying to build a new life for themselves with no support, this is an eye-opening and affecting chronicle of what it’s like to leave a community that doesn’t pay much heed to the outside world.


No comments: