• Review: The Women's Balcony (2017)

    From Mark R. Leeper@21:1/5 to All on Sun May 21 21:33:46 2017
    (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: A new comedy-drama from Israel is set in the
    ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, and it
    pits the patriarchal, male-dominated traditions against
    rising female empowerment. The Rabbi very much
    represents the old traditional flavor of Judaism but a
    new Rabbi in town represents change to the community
    for better or for worse. Perhaps. Emil Ben-Shimon
    directs a screenplay by Shlomit Nehanna. Rating:
    +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

    Among Orthodox Jews the synagogue is properly segregated. Men pray
    on the main floor, but they are separated from women who have their
    own women-only seating area. In THE WOMEN'S BALCONY the women
    have, well, a women's balcony. This arrangement is how it has been
    done for many, many years. The women's balcony is more than just a
    place to sit for the women of the congregation. It is a place
    where women can be with women and where they can feel comfortable
    and socialize. The balcony is a symbol of their identity.

    In a small Jerusalem community during a rambunctious bar mitzvah
    the balcony partially collapses, putting the rabbi's wife in a coma
    and ruining the synagogue's only Torah. Repairing the damage will
    be an expensive task requiring re-building and permits. The men
    arranging the reconstruction are short on money and to save money
    they decide to rebuild the synagogue without the expensive balcony,
    leaving no place for the women to sit during religious services.
    The women are told they can pray in the outer lobby. The
    controversy threatens to take from them something more than just a
    place to sit during religious services.

    The males of the congregation have gotten lazy. What the rabbi
    says they automatically accept with an "Amen." They will continue
    with a tradition without having to think about whether it makes
    sense or not. The women of the congregation, who have always been
    treated as second class, want to renegotiate the contract. They do
    not delegate their conscience to a man or a book.

    The old rabbi feels loyalty only to a long tradition and to boot he
    has been little unstrung by missing his still-hospitalized wife. He
    sees nothing wrong a synagogue without a place for women. If it is
    a choice of not replacing the Torah or not having a section for
    women to sit, the synagogue must have the Torah. The male members
    of the congregation will not stand up to the rabbi. But the women
    have their own ideas of how the dilemma should be resolved.

    The film is in Hebrew with subtitles of varying quality. Some
    viewers not familiar with Orthodox beliefs and who do not know
    Hebrew may have some problems with subtitles that are obscured by
    background. In one sequence at a political demonstration there are
    protest banners in Hebrew and there are no subtitles to tell the
    reader what is being said. Non-Orthodox viewers may find it
    puzzling that the controversy is not settled by allowing integrated
    seating. It may or may not be clear to the humanist viewer that
    this is a very strict Orthodox community so integrated seating is
    not an option.

    THE WOMEN'S BALCONY is a film that sets up a controversy and then
    would benefit from presenting both sides of the argument
    evenhandedly. I think that the right side wins, but not all
    viewers might agree. I rate THE WOMAN'S BALCONY at +1 on the -4 to
    +4 scale or 6/10. Its release date is May 26.

    Film Credits:

    What others are saying:

    Mark R. Leeper
    Copyright 2017 Mark R. Leeper

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