Disobedience (2017)

Impression: Although I have seen quite a few movies set in orthodox Jewish communities (not sure why I have seen so many?) usually in Israel or New York, I feel none of them have felt so close up and intimate with the different religious rituals than Disobedience. In this film, set among London’s orthodox community, you actually feel like you are in the synagogue listening to rabbi Krushka speak in the first scene, or later that you are in Dovid’s house with all the mourners. The camera is tight on everyone’s faces and the rooms are small, and you get a sense of how close and tight knit the community is, but also how suffocating it can feel. Enter Ronit, the prodigal daughter living in New York, working as a photographer, living a much different life than she left behind. She returns for her father’s funeral and is faced with her past. The way those scenes are shot is amazing, and you almost feel in her skin. Uncomfortable. Familiar, but judged. The story unveils slowly, she left without saying goodbye, some years ago. Her best male and female friends (Dovid and Esti) have since married each other, and he is being trained to take over for her father.  At first, Esti seems much more guarded towards Ronit then Dovid, and as if she is only tolerating Ronit staying with them because her husband invited her.  Ronit is a loudmouth and even though she eventually gets herself invited to family functions, she has a hard time keeping quiet about her opinions and all the things she disapproves of in the community she has left behind. Slowly, even more details of the past are revealed, and things between Ronit, Dovid and Esti are not quite what they seemed in the beginning. I enjoyed the way this film was shot very much and the slow way in which the past is revealed. The only part of the movie I really disliked was the central sex scene, which I felt was cheap and exploitative. Why shoot a sex scene as a montage? To show it was long? To be able to show the sequence of a all it entailed?  But why does that even matter? I don’t know why, but it really rubbed me the wrong way.  In all other ways I thought the film was beautiful and well done. And I very much enjoyed the ending.
Facts:  Extreme close-up of the life inside an orthodox Jewish community in London, as a rabbi’s prodigal daughter’s return for his funeral causes waves
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

A Fish out of Water (2017)

Impression: In the festival program this movie was compared to something Edward Yang would have done. It’s not just because it is also from Taiwan, but because it’s very intimately focused on family dynamics and slow moving, but beautifully shot. I loved Yi Yi by Yang, so I figured I should give this one a try.  The center of  the story is a family with a very young boy, and an aging, sick father they take care of.  The stresses of dealing with family and work, eventually lead to fights which lead the man and woman to temporarily separating with the woman taking care of the boy and the man taking care of his father. The additional stress is that the boy constantly keeps thinking about and mentioning and drawing his “other family.” We eventually learn the other family was a family he remembers from a previous life. He has very clear memories of this other family, and his parents want to be helpful, but it is stressful to deal with his teachers, other family, who they are afraid are judging them. The boy also, keeps wanting to go visit his “other family” and can’t be left alone, because he wanders off.  Although this strange detail in the plot is central to the film, the film is actually still about family dynamics, and how families deal with problems that life throws at them.  At the end they finally take him to visit the small town by the sea where he claims his “other family” lives.  While the movie is mostly hardcore realism, I particularly liked the last scene, which during the Q & A, the director admitted was his favorite also. It depicts the central couple struggles up a sand dune in wind in their wedding attire, being followed by photographers. Certainly a metaphor of sorts for family life.
Facts:  Taiwanese movie about a young boy who constantly thinks and remembers his “other family.”
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.