Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Forbidden Wish

The Forbidden Wish
Directed by Michael Carnick
Released April 6, 2021 (VOD)

Religion is something that can bring a great deal of comfort and can cause a great deal of pain. Those who find meaning in it will likely incorporate it into the moments that make them happiest and saddest, using it as a source of explanation and assigning a higher power to guide the seemingly random events that occur in the universe. Others will remember a difficult time in which it caused them nothing but anguish and associate it with misery and alienation. Yet even for those who have turned away from religion, a momentous development or tremendous struggle may send them searching in a space they never expected to return to, as in the case of this intriguing and thought-provoking two-person drama.

It is the night before Yom Kippur, and Nate (Sammi Rotibi), an Ethiopian-born rabbi, practices his sermon in an empty sanctuary. The quiet of the large room is interrupted when Isaac (John Berchtold) arrives, having just walked from the airport after returning from Israel, where he has just buried his father. Isaac recounts how he attended Hebrew school at the synagogue and how he now wishes to end his life. Before he can do so, however, he wants Nate to bestow upon him the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer said for the dead. Resistant to the idea of saying it for someone who is living, Nate engages Isaac in conversation, which in turn leads to Nate also sharing that which haunts him.

This film is a captivating portrait of two men who seem impossibly alone, one who is indeed that way, with no real family or friends to care for him, and the other who will soon be surrounded by a congregation that will find his carefully-prepared words informative and educational. In many ways, it could be a play, given that the scenery barely changes and the two speak directly to each other for the entirety of the film, anchoring the story around their growing relationship. Its role as a film enables the camera to extract further emotion from close-up shots of its characters’ faces and how they respond to the statements made and questions asked by the other.

In this film is an interesting engagement with Judaism, one that requires a substantial knowledge of rituals and customs in the construction of its plot and puts a peculiar emphasis on a prayer that might be well known to many but certainly not as a requirement – or endorsement – for ending one’s life. Identity is another key theme, one that the script by writer-director Michael Carnick richly probes. Rotibi and Berchtold bring a relatable humanity to their fractured characters, and this exploration of purpose and connection proves memorable and lingering.


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