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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Movie Review

Like my friend Shifra, I, too, was lucky enough to carve out a few hours to see the movie that everyone has been talking about, Ushpizin. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though the movie itself is far from groundbreaking in terms of plot line, the fact that it was so predictable did not bother me in the least. I was too engrossed in the absolutely beautiful acting of the main characters of husband and wife - married in real life as well. There are scenes that have them beseeching God for help in the form of a miracle, that were so heartfelt they had me in tears. I found the actors' portrayal of absolute bitachon (faith) in God, even in the face of tremendous trials and tribulations, to be unbelievably uplifting. Another part I particularly enjoyed was the fact that the wife, Mali, was not portrayed as ultra-Orthodox women have traditionally been portrayed in movies (A Stranger Among Us, A Price Above Rubies), as standing in the background, kowtowing to the men in her life. Instead, she has a mind of her own, and a mouth of her own to speak it. The couple has a chemistry that is explained by their real-life marriage, and it adds to the credibility of the movie. And in what is truly a refreshing break from the usual movie theater fare these days, the couple was able to express their obviously strong love for each other without any on-screen physical contact whatsoever. All in all, though some might find this movie treacly, I found its sentimentality a refreshing change of pace.

Check it out.


Blogger Binny said...

Like you, I found the acting superb, especially from the actress playing Mali. While the other characters were played by experienced Israeli actors, as instructed by the creator/lead actor's Rebbe, only his real wife could play his wife, even though it meant putting someone on film with no acting training or experience whatsoever. Impressive job.

However, one thing about this movie bothers me a great deal. While the bitachon theme is pervasive, I am weary of it sending the wrong message. This movie was intended to give people a look at "real" ultra-Orthodox Judaism, which is fine. But if they believe in the same God as I do (as a modern Orthodox Jew), then what's the message of this movie? If you daven for something you really need, you automatically get it? If you do an especially difficult good deed - showing restraint in the most difficult circumstances, for example - you will be rewarded handsomely by The Creator? This is not the case, as we well know. Tzaddik v'ra Lo, Rasha V'Tov Lo. The rightrous don't neccesarily reap their benefits in this world, nor are the wicked punished in this world. God answers prayers, to be sure, but on a level that is understood only by Him.

Don't get me wrong; I loved this movie and many things about it. But the Hollywood happy ending certainly isn't one of them. For a movie that brought so much realism to the screen in terms of actions, situations, and especially characters, it would've been nice to see authenticity in its Judaic themes.

9:39 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

This is not the case, as we well know. Tzaddik v'ra Lo, Rasha V'Tov Lo. The rightrous don't neccesarily reap their benefits in this world, nor are the wicked punished in this world. God answers prayers, to be sure, but on a level that is understood only by Him.

I totally hear you, but nothing in the tenets of Judaism prohibits a happy ending for the righteous. Is it a given? No. Is it uplifting to see? Absolutely.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Binny said...

Sure it's uplifting, but let me give my comments some context. I saw this movie with my parents and friends of theirs, who had already seen it and knew quite a lot about it. I asked why the authorities of Meah Shearim would allow one of their own to film a Charedi story (and on location, no less!). They've always been insular; what do they stand to gain by telling a Charedi story to the world? My parents' friends (who have a Breslav son) responded that one of the uses of the film could be for Kiruv. After seeing this movie, maybe it drives someone to think, "Hey, maybe there is something to this religious lifestyle." So my comments are really meant in that context. It would be a pity for someone to be moved by this film to find God, but looking to Him and expecting the do-good-and-be-rewarded system, "as seen on TV," so to speak. Of course, that's an extreme best case (or, ironically, worst case) scenario.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Most impressive about "Mali" - she's never acted before. I actually think that helped: She had no clue how to act other than as she normally does; she reminded me so much of my own charedi cousins in Eretz Yisroel, save the smoking (which was troubling).

Also refreshing, as my wife pointed out, was the affection you noted. It was unexpected in a charedi movie, and nice to see.

A friend said he was shocked and didn't know what to think: He couldn't remember the last time he liked a movie that had no scenes, kissing, violence, or swearing. Who knew wholesome could be entertaining?!

1:51 AM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Ezzie: There was some swearing by the "Ushpizim" themselves. The smoking was totally in character...like it or not, thats reality :-/

When I saw the movie, I didn't feel it being "preachy" at all - rather just good, frum entertainment. Although not available so much to the outside of Israel market, The Dati "Maaleh" film school has produced some outstanding dati directors and films.

The short film "Eicha" is a great example. Eicha is the name of a teenage girl in a sterotypical settler family. She was born on Tisha B'Av, and has brothers Yerushalayim and Chevron, which are names you can really find today! She is different that the rest of her family, without all the settler/orange/Yesha deep comittment...and her dream is to change her name to something else.

If I have time - maybe I'll blog-review it later today.

3:24 AM  
Blogger Cosmic X said...

I like it as well.

5:23 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Like my friend Shifra,

Do you know her in RL (real life)?

10:40 AM  
Blogger Zev Steinhardt said...

My wife and I saw this movie as well. We enjoyed it very much - after seeing movies where Jewish depictions were simply wrong (either out of ignorance or wilfully in the name of comedy), it was refreshing to see a depiction that was more realistic.

I was wondering if the name Balanga was taken because it is similar to the Hebrew word "Balagan" (meaning "total messup") since during the course of the movie, his life became a balagan.

2:41 PM  
Blogger YMedad said...

a) Mali was a famous singer some 20 years ago and has extensive stage experience; b) the main "stage scenes" were shot not in Meah She'arim but in the courtyard just west of the machaneh Yehuda shuk; c) the opening scene, where the Sukkah is taken, actually happened to Shuli Rand who was brought up religious, left and came back Breslav; d) Shuli wom the Israel "oscar" for best actor last year and it was lovely seeing him ascend the stage in chiloni Tel Aviv;

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved the way the characters reasoned, thought, and interracted, and the way they allowed themselves to be emotionally vulnerable to each other, especially with the man whose sukka was stolen. My own take on the movie was that it was meant to tell a story about the way things can be. I didn't get the impression that it was meant to be good press for the Orthodox or for Jews, although it was quite a relief to see the Orthodox conveyed in a good light for once.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frankly, the secene most brilliantly conceived, fiercely funny and utterly wasted on most of the audience of cultural outsiders and the satire-deaf was a little throwaway at the start with the americanized kollel wife shopping for hats in mali's apt. Geveret Weiner's american hebrew, the utter reluctance to buy, the embarrassed curtsy with her leaving was so perfectly realized. It was exquisite satire of the kind where the vast majority of the crowd didn't realize that they were the ones being poked at.
Of course, the rest of the movie was stellar too. So the plot was predictable. But the form was executed and realized so perfectly that you didnt mind.

10:33 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Frankly, the secene most brilliantly conceived, fiercely funny and utterly wasted on most of the audience of cultural outsiders and the satire-deaf was a little throwaway at the start with the americanized kollel wife shopping for hats in mali's apt.

You are absolutely correct. It was riotous. The americanized hebrew had me cracking up - it was so dead on.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my wife and I loved the scene of Mali lip-syncing.

I think the theme of the movie is not so much "If you pray, good things will happen" but rather there is a God and He is in control. Moshe bought into this, but kept drawing his own conclusions based on the evidence he perceived, and such conclusions were, in fact, incorrect (if I apologize to Gabai, all will be well, if I buy this etrog, we'll have a son).

What God clearly wanted was personal growth from Moshe. He wanted Moshe to be able to overcome personal challenges due to bitachon. God wanted him to be able to experience feelings (including anger) without fear that he would beat the object of his anger to death. God wanted Moshe to be a whole person with a range of emotions, not a passive person. But He wanted it in the context of Torah. It's ok to feel, but not to be overcome by anger.

It was a beautifully acted movie. I don't see the kiruv value, but I was awed by the depth of their faith and their ability to interact with God on a personal level. It's something I, as a Mod Orth Jew, wish I could have.

11:52 AM  
Blogger michael edelman said...

I don't know how good, or bad it was for the orthodox, and I don't know how accurate it was, either (having been raised what we today would call "conservadox"). But I did think it was an absolutely beautiful little film, with wonderful characters. And I agree that the message was not so much that prayer brings things, but that, as the Rabbi said, "Moshe, each time we think we have reached a certain level of change within ourselves, we are tested again. There is no rest." And yet faith survives.

9:19 PM  
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