Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Red Cow

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

Red Cow
Directed by Tsivia Barkai Yacov
Screening June 4 at 6:15pm

Devotion to a particular faith or idea can often inspire people to see meaning in everything that happens in their lives. What they see and interpret from it may differ even from those with a similar outlook on goals and aspirations for themselves and others, and the discord among conflicting points of view can create unrest, confusion, and lead to problematic interactions. When taken too far, it can threaten the stability and happiness of those with fervent faith and even lead to dangerous violence and unavoidable consequences for a wider population.

Benni (Avigail Kovari) is a teenager being raised by Yehoshua (Gal Toren) after the death of her mother in childbirth. They live in East Jerusalem in a settlement, and Yehoshua embodies a religious extremist ideology that pervades every aspect of his life. The birth of a red cow on the same day as the death of his mother makes him believe in the imminent arrival of the Messiah, and Benny is charged with caring for the cow. She finds an intense distraction in the form of Yael (Moran Rosenblatt), developing a forbidden attraction that will never meet her father’s approval on multiple levels.

This film, which describes itself as being set in the days leading up to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin by a man with beliefs similar to those of Yehoshua, captures a zealotry in its characters that makes them immensely watchable and complex. Yehoshua, in an unusual move, permits – and requires – his daughter to wrap tefillin, or phylacteries, each morning, a practice restricted to men in ultra-Orthodox tradition. He sees what is forming between his daughter and Yael, and initially declines to interfere since he finds it to be harmless. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that this isn’t an innocent rebellion on Benny’s part, but instead an expression of her identity that doesn’t match her father’s worldview.

Kovari, who has a small role in another Israel Film Center Festival film, “Redemption,” and picked up a prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival for her performance, delivers a passionate and genuine turn as Benny, who doesn’t seek to contradict her father’s beliefs but to be her own person within the context of his reputation and energy. Toren infuses Yehoshua with an immutable drive, one that makes him an enormously compelling character. Rosenblatt, who won an Ophir Israeli Oscar for “Wedding Doll,” rounds out an exceptional cast as Yael, a worthwhile character in her own right even though this really isn’t her story. This film spotlights a fascinating facet of society with a rich and involving portrait of an atypical father-daughter relationship.


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