Tuesday, November 18, 2008

הסודות -Ha-Sodot (The Secrets)

This Avi Nesher film was a lot more complex that what I imagined and expected, as has three very interesting women stories going on at the same time and I will try to explain the stories I saw in this very good movie.

First, we find the story of a young and brilliant Torah student, Noemi, that while mourning her mother is wary of the prospect of marrying his rabbi father main student, as means to be doomed to a purely domestic life under the Orthodox Jews culture hard-line divisions of gender responsibilities; and her being drawn to search for more possibilities within an extreme religion that does not allow women to be involved with anything religious. Her teacher at the Daat Emet seminary for women is one that confides Naomi her hopes that in the future women can become Rabbi's, an idea that Naomi seems to approve even when in real life this is totally an impossibility.

The above story allows us to see aspects of a male dominated strict (orthodox) religion where Divine knowledge is the prerogative of males (very similar to the Catholic Church) and the director and writer gives an alternately critical and sympathetic liberal-feminist point of view that I find more critical than realistic. Still, in Noemi’s story she is able to leave the strict orthodox upbringing to end up being rejected by her father and living alone in an apartment in what I believe is Tel Aviv.

This story I found it quite interesting as even when there are some movies that show how an Orthodox Jew woman leave the community to integrate to more mainstream Judaism, this story gives a lot more information about women desire to belong actively in the religion and not being really able to do it.

The second story is about Noemi meeting Michel, a girl from Lyon, France that was sent to Daat Emet as sort of “punishment” for being a wild card. She can’t be more different to Naomi and the other girls in the seminary, but as the cliché goes, opposites attract and both develop more than a normal friendship that is more ‘liberal’ Michel the one that cannot deal with it and becomes more traditional than totally traditional Noemi.

This story is great to watch as lesbian interest themed as both girls performances are not only very good, but also mostly done with expressions and sights that speak more than words could do. But you have to admit that the story is full of not really positive clichés and soon enough you guess that the end of the story has to be negative and it is, even when the director/writer tried to soft the ending by implying forgiveness (another cliché) to their relationship. Then, I happen to agree with some that mention that this story was really unnecessary and if not present, the film would have worked the same. I also believe that the director/writer decided to include it to make the movie more sensationalist and controversial. Being kind, there is also the possibility that he include it to show what can easily happen when genders are so severely divided (or not so severily –like in all girls schools), but that’s hardly a novelty and many films have successfully exposed the situation in a much more credible way.

The third story definitively created more controversy than the lesbian interest story and is the one that involves Anouk (Fanny Ardant) as a French woman looking for Divine forgiveness before dying. After 15 years in prison for brutally killing her partner and after finding that she’s dying she returns to Safed asking the elders to help her die, which obviously they refuse as she’s not allowed to even touch them. Noemi and Michel end up helping Anouk by doing a Tikkun (or cleansing ritual in the Kabbalistic practice). The Sectrets title totally applies to the Anouk character that as she slowly reveals her "secrets", the girls start to question some things about themselves as human beings, females and Orthodox Jews. So, actually this is the story that really triggers the movie and that joins the other two stories.

I’m torn with this story. Yes I just love Fanny Ardant and love her performances and this one is no exception; but I had a hard time at moments believing that she was dying, as she looks so ravishingly beautiful, as it is impossible to think that a Fanny Ardant with barely make-up and crazy hair will look sick instead of extremely beautiful to watch. Obviously when she’s in the screen, she totally eclipses the good performances by Ania Bukstein (Noemi) and Michal Shtamler (Michel). Then Anouk was quite colorful character but very melodramatic; still, what I really liked was to be able to see the “cleasing” rituals as a glimpse into a very unknown to me extreme side of Judaism.

As a movie, well it was acceptable as I was totally engaged with the story (or stories); but cinematography was totally underplayed and the director lost numerous opportunities where he could have played with better framing compositions, light and other tech specs that could have enhanced the movie to make it a truly cinematic experience. And I mention this because the setting and the story deserved more attention to details and because some are calling this movie art cinema or art house cinema when definitively it is not.

The movie had 8 nominations at the 2007 Israeli Film Academy Awards including a Best Actress nomination for Ania Bukstein and she truly deserves the honor; the movie has been around the fest circuit since early 2007.

I have the impression that this movie allows viewers to see whatever they want to see, which is quite an achievement, so perhaps the movie is suited for adult audiences that do not mind to see women stories dramas with a strong touch of little known strict religions.

For me it is obvious that this movie belongs to the lesbian interest genre, as some scenes done with expressions and sights are very erotic and compelling; but this is not your regular genre type of movie and the lesbian interest storyline is full of not positive clichés. But then the movie is really enjoyable beyond the genre and I highly recommend it as a women stories film.

I know this post is long, but when I really like a movie I’m truly compelled to write a lot, so no surprise: I really enjoyed a lot this movie and I especially thank a dearest friend for allowing me to understand the dialogues as my Hebrew is almost not existent.


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