Israel 2012. Dir: Rama Burshtein, Scr: Rama Burshtein
Sitting down to watch this film, my initial interest might have been rather anthropological. All I knew was that it was about arranged marriage and by Rama Burshtein, described as a woman who makes films about women for women in the Orthodox Jewish Community. But it is a revelation: gripping, moving, acted beautifully, shot mesmerically and put together with the most perfect technical and moral touch. It’s the story of eighteen-year-old Shira in the aftermath of the death of her older sister during childbirth, as she grapples uncertainly with the personal conflict between familial duty and her own aspirations for love and marriage. We do get a unique glimpse of the colours, sounds, rhthyms and values of the Orthodox Community: the separation of the sexes; the theatre of ritual; music and communal song; the urgent rocking back and forth of supplicants or the anxious; the significance of hats on women; the Rabbi as advisor on everything, including ovens.
But the film only brings us this world by telling Shira’s story, without a wasted frame. A story of the weight of doing the right thing when feelings are individual and diverse, a story of choices being made when will isn’t entirely free. And along the way grief, attraction, rivalry, selfishness, the need to love and to be loved, to choose and be chosen are sensitively explored. Each scene is elegantly designed and perfectly timed, each costume is carefully selected with a painters eye and the viewer’s senses and emotions are intensified by the intimacy of the photography, which places us in close with the actors. The whole cast is wonderful – the mother, the brother-in-law, the aunt-confidante with no arms – and the central performance from Hadas Yaron, winner of “Best Actress” at Venice, is magical and entrancing. Wide-eyed in both innocent optimism and in emotional conflict, she stuns us in the final frame. It is, as the Rabbi had said, “only a matter of feelings”.