Release Date: May 24, 2013 (Limited)
Director: Rama Burshtein
MPAA Rating: PG
Film Pulse Score: 8/10
Arranged marriages. The idea of it just seems so foreign but the practice has been around since time began. Two families arrange for a marriage between members be it for political, financial or personal gains. Often times the two marrying members don’t really know each other or have never met and the love part of the union will just come around assuming it even does. It’s crazy to think about but in certain societies it is still practiced to this day. Rama Burshtein’s directorial debut not only looks at arranged marriages within a community, the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community to be exact, but how it deals with life itself.
18 year old Shira is about to be engaged and so her mother and her decide to check out her intended husband. Her mother has some humorous issues with his appearance. Shira’s older sister Esther is pregnant and due any day now. It’s a pretty joyous time for the close knit family and community as well. However, tragedy befalls them when Esther has complications and dies during childbirth. Shira’s engagement is put on hold and the family begins to mourn. As the weeks pass suggestions are made that perhaps Shira should still marry but who should she marry now?
Burshtein uses deliberate strokes to paint a picture of the Hasidic community that is fascinating, heartfelt and reverent. It’s accessible enough that regardless of what faith, or lack there of, you practice you will still find enjoyment in the film. Somewhat romantic, quite dramatic and occasionally funny the film feels natural. Nothing is played up as they would be in a traditional romantic-comedy sense but events unfold as if they were very real situations. Burchstein also wrote the screenplay and she has provided the viewer with access to a community that seldom ever opens itself up to the public in this fashion. The ceremonies and traditions on display are quite fascinating and intriguing.
The performances are quite good across the board. Hadas Yaron does a fine job of portraying the innocence and confusion that Shira experiences. Irit Sheleg is very good as her mother Rivka. She really conveys the anguish that a mother must go threw in this particular situation. Razia Israeli is quite memorable as Shira’s aunt, Hanna. She’s the old soul in the group who’s been around and isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers to get what is best for everyone. The rest of the cast appears to be actual members of the Hasidic community, either that Burshstein’s attention to detail has pulled one over. Either way the look and feel of the performances are authentic which truly helps the drama within the story.
This is a fascinating look into a community that we seldom ever see. While the thought of arranged marriages seem rather unusual this film shows that they do serve a purpose. However, it also examines just where love fits in the grand scheme of things. Is it really needed? Traditionally most would say how can two people get married if they aren’t in love but arranged marriages aren’t traditional. The film doesn’t condemn the practice but certainly sheds understanding upon it and makes it accessible thanks to solid writing and good performances. It’s a well made drama that in other hands could have come off as a screwy romantic-comedy but thankfully it is not. This is a fine debut from a filmmaker to watch.