Monday, June 3, 2019

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Redemption

I’m pleased to be covering the 7th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 3rd-12th.

Directed by Joseph Madmony and Boaz Yehonatan Yacov
Opening Night

Religion is something that can guide a person’s every waking moment. There are many different motivations for someone to become religious at a given point in their lives, and often a dramatic shift from a secular lifestyle to an observant one creates an entirely new worldview. When elements from a dissimilar past collide with a more stringent present, the disparity can be seen in a stark way that forces the person at the center to examine their beliefs and choices to determine if how they see the world is compatible with what they need or what others need from them.

Menachem (Moshe Folkenflick) is a devout Orthodox Jew who works at a local supermarket to support his young daughter Geula (Emily Granin), who is undergoing chemotherapy for a cancer similar to the one that took his wife’s life. Desperate for money to pay for the treatments, Menachem enlists his former bandmates, Avi (Sivan Shtivi), Gouli (Yonatan Galila), and Danny (Shahar Even-Tzur), to play weddings. Though it’s a far cry from the clubs and the music they used to play, Menachem finds a surprising release in returning to his musical roots while trying ardently not to stray from a faithful path.

What could be a familiar tale of someone having to leave religion behind in order to become the man he used to be and make ends meet feels completely fresh, aided by the specifics of its storyline. Whenever his bandmates express their excitement at the feeling of playing together, Menachem is quick to respond that rejoicing with a bride and groom is a ritual duty. The loss of his wife and the illness of his daughter have only served to strengthen his beliefs, but being in such close proximity with people who can’t understand the way he sees his relationship with Judaism and God threatens to unseat whatever balance he still has left.

The performances in this film are extraordinary. Folkenflick immerses himself into Menachem, displaying compassion, humor, and the gravity of his situation in all of his interactions, particularly the dates he goes on in order to find a potential new wife. In her debut film role, Granin is wonderful, and the two leads are ably supported by the portrayers of the band and by Avigail Kovari as a neighbor who steps in to babysit every time Menachem’s two worlds collide. This is an endearing and powerful film, one that finds the humanity in each of its characters and delivers a resounding and enjoyable portrait of their struggles and victories. The music is a great added touch too.


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