Monday, 19 December 2016

Rama Burshtein's Through The Wall

The reviewers seem a little puzzled by this film. It’s about a thirty-something woman, Michal, who turned to God in her twenties, has a ditzy job (she runs a petting zoo), shares a flat, and suddenly feels the pain of not being able to live a conventional religious social life, for which she meeds to be married to a nice Orthodox Jewish Boy. Let me know when the penny drops.

Yep. This is a movie about the hazards of Alpha Lays and Beta Pays. In this case the Alpha is God, and the Betas are all those Orthodox Jewish men she meets. With the slight problem that none of them seem to be dumb enough or Beta enough for Michal to fool. All of them, from the hot indie singer to the various be-hatted guys sent to her by yentas, catch onto her prickly character, the fact she will be horrible to live with (there’s no father at home, and her much hotter married sister is in the middle of a screaming-in-the-streets row with her husband), and possibly notice that they are slimmer than she is. None of the men are shamed for being smart enough to realise she’s not relationship material: in fact, they each get to tell her she’s a nightmare and full of herself. That’s a clue right there.

The movie starts with Michal and her fiance tasting the food for their wedding. She makes which item to taste first a subject of debate - something her boyfriend point out, and which had a man along the row in the cinema curling up in laughter. She senses there’s something wrong and eventually verbally bludgeons the truth out of him: he doesn’t love her. Despite that, she goes ahead with her plans for a wedding. She’s got everything else, and all God has to provide is a husband. Everyone goes along with this, with increasing reluctance and foreboding, but no sense that perhaps a psychiatrist might be in order. She gets to the wedding room, takes her bridal seat and seemingly starts hallucinating (the script suddenly tells us she’s been fasting) a conversation with the Hot Guy who runs the wedding venue. Her BBW sister even asks her “who were you talking to”.

And then, right at the end, God sends her the hot guy who runs the wedding venue.

This film can be read that way: he only way an over-weight, contentious, socially-inept Four who has clearly bashed through The Wall is ever going to land a hot guy is by a miracle sent from God. Before you say that can’t be what Ms Burshtein intended, don’t forget that she is an Orthodox Jew herself. I’m guessing she feels about Michal the way Red Pillers feel about career-focussed Carousel Riders. In other words, Michal isn’t the heroine, she’s the deluded central figure.

I liked this film, though my reality-principle kept me wondering, in the last fifteen minutes, where the psychiatrists were. The painful lead-up to her groom-less wedding is necessary, because without it there wouldn’t be the miracle ending. There would have been a poor-Michal-strong-independent-woman-vicitim-of-the-Patriarchy ending. Or finally-someone-mans-up-and-marries-the-post-wall-woman. And those were not, I suspect, readings Ms Burshtein wanted.

It’s got moments of comedy and acute observation - the sequence with the snake and the schoolgirls is a gem - and it has moments of pathos where we feel sympathy for the seemingly doomed Michal.

I saw it at the Curzon Soho. I’ve previously written about their silly pricing. Since then, for reasons I’ll explain later, I joined their members’ scheme, got four free films which are almost worth the price of membership, and discounts that meant I paid £11.50 that Sunday. That’s a price I can live with.

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