Director: Amos Gitai

Amos Gitai’s masterly film – a slow, deceptively simple and (at least in Israel, one presumes) controversial study of the suffering inflicted daily on women according to the laws of the strictest Hassidic Judaism – makes for downbeat but wholly compelling viewing. Set in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox quarter of Mea Shearim, it focuses on the experiences of two sisters: Rivka (Ya’l Abecassis), married but childless, whose loving husband of ten years, the devoutly religious Meir (Yoram Hattab), is advised by the local rabbi to take on a young woman who might bear a male heir; and Malka (Me•tal Barda), being pushed into an unwelcome arranged marriage to the rabbi’s assistant Yossef (Uri Ran Klauzner), even though she’s already in love with Yaakov (Sami Hori).

In exploring the ideology and workings of a sternly patriarchal society, Gitai’s film wisely never takes sides explicitly, but simply observes – in long, immaculately acted scenes – how female happiness is of no consequence whatsoever in a religion so unquestioningly devoted to ancient tradition. Women are expected merely to serve God by serving their husbands, their sole value lying in their capacity for reproduction. It’s a film, then, that will (or at any rate should) arouse anger in every viewer, notwithstanding the quiet, contemplative tone and meticulous, elegant framing, which together highlight the sense of male complacency and female entrapment while eschewing the narrative and stylistic excesses of melodrama. On this evidence, Gitai – who, starting off as
a documentarist, has been making films for 20 years – deserves far greater recognition than he’s so far received. Try it, be patient with the measured pace, and prepare to be profoundly moved.

Geoff Andrew/Time Out.

Israel/France, 1999.
English subtitles.
Dolby digital stereo.
110 mins.

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