Thursday, April 23, 2020

Five Films to Watch Next If You Liked Unorthodox

Over at TV with Abe, I wrote about Netflix’s limited series “Unorthodox,” which follows a young woman named Esty (Shira Haas) as she escapes her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn and seeks a new life in Berlin. You can watch my YouTube interview with series co-creator Alexa Karolinski below, but if you’re looking to experience more cinematic stories about observant Judaism that do their subject matter justice, check out these five films. All of them are available to rent (or stream) on Amazon Prime and other platforms.

#1: Fill the Void

This film is set within the Hasidic community in Tel Aviv and stars Hadas Yaron as Shira, a woman whose sister dies in childbirth. That tragedy inspires pressure from her family members and peers to marry her widowed brother-in-law. Orthodox female filmmaker Rama Burshtein astounds with a powerful directorial debut, which won Israel’s equivalent of the Oscar for Best Picture, that never once finds Shira contemplating abandoning an observant lifestyle but instead grappling with whether to put her own desires ahead of what her community believes is best.

#2: The Wedding Plan

Rama Burshtein’s second film is a considerably more lighthearted endeavor. Michal, played by the absolutely terrific Noa Koler, is the main character whose fiancé decides he doesn’t want to get married just before their wedding. Determined to hold the ceremony anyway, Michal looks to her faith in God to help her find a new man to marry in just thirty days. It’s a fun comedy that finds the charming if overzealous Michal trying her best to great creative within the confines of her religion.

#3: Menashe

There’s no romance at the center of this almost entirely Yiddish film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017. Menashe has been widowed and is struggling to get custody back of his ten-year-old son Rieven, presenting an unusual circumstance within his Hasidic enclave in Brooklyn. As Menashe and Rieven, actors Menashe Lustig and Ruben Niborski turn in tender performances that humanize them as their relationship is tested throughout an ordeal influenced by rabbis, community members, and those that judge Menashe as a single parent.

#4: Gett: The Trial of Vivianne Amsalem

This Golden Globe-nominated film comes from brother-sister duo Ronit Elkabetz, often referred to as Israel’s Meryl Streep, and Shlomi Elkabetz, who starred in HBO’s excellent miniseries “Our Boys.” Ronit, who sadly died of lung cancer in 2016, delivers an incredible performance as the title character, who is seeking a divorce in a religious court in Israel that gives her absent husband far too much power in the proceedings. It’s an extraordinarily powerful and heartbreaking story about perseverance in the face of an impossibly and unfairly weighted system.

#5: Disobedience

The only English-language film on this list is also the most well-known. Non-Jewish Chilean director Sebastián Lelio took care to get the details right in his construction of a close-knit religious environment in London visited for the first time in a while by its protagonist, Ronit, played by Rachel Weisz, when her prominent rabbi father dies. Alessandro Nivola and Rachel McAdams are both terrific as a rising rabbi and his wife whose lives are irreversibly altered by Ronit’s return and reminders of a forbidden romance.

If you haven’t already, enjoy my interview with Alexa Karolinski, embedded below.

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