By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
As a child growing up in a Catholic family and remaining active in the church through most of my childhood, I witnessed the different dynamics of power within my community. I saw several pastors come and go, each bringing something different to the church, its services and activities. Some of these were happily accepted by the members, while others were highly controversial and often led to negative reactions by the people. As someone who experienced this in my younger years, I could easily relate to the story and themes of The Women’s Balcony, an Israeli-produced film that doesn’t deal with controversy within a Catholic Church, but the controversial changes made by a new Rabbi in a Jewish synagogue. This catalyst in the film makes for a thoroughly lovable and mostly amusing story of female empowerment and the power of people to evoke necessary change.
In Jerusalem, an old synagogue experiences a startling misfortune when the women’s balcony collapses during a Bar Mitzvah. With the Rabbi’s wife badly hurt and in a coma, the old Rabbi goes into shock and is unable to carry on the duties of his important position. From a nearby community, the young and seemingly cordial Rabbi David offers his help by taking over the services for the synagogue. As the people of the temple work to raise the money for the repairs of their place of worship and restore it to its original beauty, the young Rabbi David begins to overstep his ground and initiates some new strict policies for the synagogue that come from his more fundamentalist and traditional beliefs. These changes to the services and plans for the new temple go over very badly with some of the members, particularly the women who try to get things back to the way they were prior to the incident.
Written by Shlomit Nehama and directed by Emil Ben-Shimon, The Women’s Balcony is a triumph of a film that is guaranteed to be a real crowd pleaser. One does not have to be Jewish or all that familiar with any of the Jewish faiths to follow this movie well. The rituals, beliefs and rules are mostly easy to understand and follow while watching the movie and doesn’t distract at all from its messages. The story deals with the trappings of prideful dogmatism and the problems associated with the fear of standing up for one’s own beliefs and opinions. The writer and director also do exceptional work in offering critical commentary about sexism in religion, but at the same time, honor and show much love for the beautiful traditions of Orthodox Judaism. The filmmakers do all of this with great characters and wonderfully executed humor.
The movie features excellent performances by the ensemble cast. In addition to the superb work by Avraham Aviv Alush who stars as Rabbi David, the film feature outstanding work by Orna Banai, Sharon Elimelech, Evelin Hagoel, Itzik Cohen, Herzel Tobey, Igal Naor, Yafit Asulin, and much more. The film also features a truly beautiful score by Ahuva Ozeri. If in New York City, I must highly recommend this wonderful movie. It opens on May 26, 2017 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Quad Cinema. If not in NYC, go to https://www.menemshafilms.com/womens-balcony for openings in other cities and locations.