The Women’s Balcony (Seret International: The Israeli Film and TV Festival)

Rating:

Not as simple as a ‘battle of the sexes’ drama with comedy on the side, Emil Ben-Shimon’s film that puts women front and centre is a triumph in showcasing women of a certain age’s talent, which is rarely seen.

After a tragic accident occurs in a synagogue during a celebration, where the women’s balcony collapses, putting the Rabbi’s wife in hospital. The small close knit community of Sephardic Jews are left without a place to pray and their leader, who is suffering greatly without his wife by his side. The men find a would-be leader in Rabbi David, an Orthodox Jew who has extreme views about the faith. He soon muscles his way into the community, practically taking control over the reconstruction and repairs of the synagogue. The men become enthralled by his teachings whereas the women are cast aside. The women’s balcony is not restored and when the women protest, Rabbi David blames them for the collapse. But they soon rally together to raise money for the balcony and won’t let the outsider tear apart the community.

There is an obvious divide when it comes to religion but there is nothing greater and more disturbing than when there are fractions within. The contrast to the happy community at the start (and end) where they are free to be themselves and the men and women work in harmony with each other, compared to the practically segregated genders show how one person’s beliefs can tear people apart. It isn’t clear whether Rabbi David really does believe everything he is saying or if he trying to take over the congregation for the power element. At first he seems like he is strict and takes everything very seriously but later on in the film when he is starting to see he is losing his grip, he does forge an official documents and gets angry when a student questions him for it. He thinks he is right and everyone else is flawed, particularly the women, as they seem to be an easy target.

The women of the story are brilliant and do have more rounded-out characters than the men, but as this is about their balcony, you would expect nothing less. There are the archetypes; the strong leader, Ettie, who refuses to back down, the one who becomes very strict and claims that she is righteous in her acts and there is the younger woman who is looking for a husband and just so happens to have a connection with one of Rabbi David’s followers. Ettie is the driving force from the start. She takes the brunt of the blame for the accident (for some strange reason) and gets the women organised in raising the money needed. She is also shown to have a strong loving bond with her husband who starts to see the new Rabbi’s intentions and work with his wife. Overall, it’s a triumphant story for women who prove they are the voice of reason and the driving force in the community.

Beginning how the films ends, with a joyous occasion, rather than the impending doom and dulled grey colours of the bar-mitzvah, the film comes full circle with a bright, warmer-toned wedding. With this end, there is hope that the community will mend and eventually be stronger than ever showing that the film is about unity as well as understanding one another. It’s a brilliant uplifting film with a soul and really does show the importance of respect.

 

Dir: Emil Ben-Shimon
Prd: Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Talia Kleinhendler, Leon Edery, Moshe Edery
Scr: Shlomit Nehama
Cast: Evelin Hagoel, Igal Naor, Orna Banay, Einat Sarouf, Aviv Aloush, Itzik Cohen, Asaf Ben Shimon, Yafit Asulin, Sharon Elimelech, Haim Znati, Abraham Celektar
DoP: Ziv Berkovich
Music: Ahuva Ozeri
Country: Israel

Running Time: 96 minutes