on January 20, 2013
Let's get the nuts and bolts out of the way first: Great film; stellar acting by all of the principals along with outstanding direction and cinematography; slow but engaging (though it helps to have some preexisting knowledge of traditional Jewish observance or at least a solid interest in the subject); sad with a capital "s"; and, perhaps most frustrating to some viewers, unwilling to hit its audience over the head with an obvious message.
NB: The following contains spoilers, though as few as possible.
Viewers who see or expect to see some kind of systematic attack on Charedi (or Ultra-Orthodox) Judaism in this film are projecting their own agendas onto it. The movie is, in fact, a tremendously affectionate reflection on growing up Charedi in Israel. The affection is evident in the lovely relationship that Menachem has with his parents (please don't try to use the scene with the photograph as a counter argument; surely even the happiest, best adjusted among us were at one point pressured into doing something we didn't want to by our parents) and the general happiness and cheerfulness that Menachem gives off as he goes about his day. Many have tried to blame what happens to Menachem at the end of the film on his father's piety; the worst I think it's fair to do is blame it on a very common lapse in judgment that usually (though not in this case) results in no harm to anyone.
This isn't to say that the film endorses the Charedi way of life, either. The point it makes is more subtle: the film is a meditation on why, ultimately, this community was not one in which Volach could fit. The answer to why is that this community's vision of the world (it's "hashkafa" in Jewish terms) is too narrow and constraining for someone like Menachem (and, by extension, Volach). The key exposition of the community's hashkafa comes in the scene where Manachem's father gives his vort (a sermonette) on hashgacha pratit and hashgacha clalit (personal and general providence) and the way in which these concepts separate the Charedi from the rest of humanity (even other Jews). Menachem, by contrast, is always looking for ways to connect to those outside his community, be it other humans (the scene with the photograph) or any living thing (both the question about the souls of dogs and his concern about the fish at the Dead Sea). It's the last of these, his effort to save the fish, that leads to the tragedy at the end of the film and serves as a metaphor for the inability of the Charedi way of life to make room for someone like him. In this sense, the film is critical of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism: it's too insular, self-absorbed and cut off from the rest of humanity to be able to sustain someone with a different worldview (or maybe to sustain anyone, but I'm not sure if Volach is going that far). The film is also critical of the Charedi hashkafa's inability to make sense out of a world where the events at the end of the film can happen and to provide real comfort for those going through them. These are fair criticisms, but they are ones that Volatch balances with a powerful evocation of the joy of being part of such a community.
This Israeli import has a big theme - the price that is paid by following rigid religious beliefs. The acting in this heartbreaking drama was absolutely impeccable as we meet an Orthodox rabbi, his wife and their young son of about eight. There is love in this small family and they do not question their religious practices or beliefs. And then a tragedy occurs, and their lives are turned upside down. There were tears in my eyes as I watched this film. It felt absolutely real with the story moving quickly and the proper amount of time spent to establish their characters and their motives. I was captured from the very beginning and consider this film a small work of art.
I saw this film at the Tribecca Film festival and had the privilege of hearing the director talk about his work. All the people involved in the production were Israeli, of course, but they were not necessarily Orthodox. All the details included in the film made the story very real. And the ending raised the kind of open-ended moral question that resonated with me long after I left the theater.
I am glad the this film is finally getting wide distribution. But even if it hadn't made it, this filmmaker clearly has a gift for making films and his future looks bright. Because the film is so sad, I cannot recommend it for everyone. But I sure am glad it is now being sold on Amazon.
Benjamin Franklin wrote that to be overzealous in religion is to be non-religious. The rabbi in this film should have listened to Franklin. This is an award-wining Israeli film containing a pitiful and tragic portrayal of an overly religious Israeli Jew. It depicts the life of two loving parents and their adorable male child. The father is an inflexible pious rabbi who is convinced, and so teaches his congregation and family, that Jews must do everything that is stated in the Torah without asking why. But, unfortunately, like many pious people, he misunderstands the words and spirit of the Torah.
His world view can be seen in two of many well acted episodes. The Bible states that when a person comes across a mother bird sitting on eggs or chicks and the person wants to take the eggs or chicks, the person must first chase away the mother bird. The Bible commentators explain that this is done either to avoid hurting the feelings of the mother bird or to teach humans to be kind to one another. This rabbi misunderstands. He is convinced that the Torah obligates Jews to chase away a mother bird whenever they see her sitting by chicks, whether they want to take the chicks or not. He does this and causes unnecessary pain to the mother bird.
Another example is his sermon to his congregation where he chauvinistically and improperly teaches that God only watches and aids pious Jews, no one else. All other people, he teaches, were created to make life easy for pious Jews.
The film maker shows how his misguided understanding results in a terrible tragedy.
I have been on a roll of great and/or interesting Israeli movies (more on that later), and I picked this up, really not knowing much about the movie, other that it came highly recommended.
"My Father, My Lord" (75 min, originally released in 2007) is a slow-moving movie that portrays an ultra-Orthodox family in their daily doings. The dad is a highly-respected rabbi, the mom a complying wife. They have a young son (I'm guessing 8 yrs old or so), and much of the movie centers around how the young son experiences life growing up in an ultra-Orthodox setting. The movie builds up to a long-anticipated (by the young son) trip to the beach at the Dead Sea. And then the unthinkable happens. I wish the movie would've explored more of the aftermath, as the movie concludes too quickly for my liking.
I visited Israel this past November on a business trip, so my exposure to the Orthodox community was/has been minimal. This movie provides a great glampse into that community. I have to say that I wondered at times if the lead characters were actually actors, or real-life Orthodox persons, that's how real it felt. Despite its shortcomings (included the too-short running time), I'd recommend this movie in a heartbeat. If you are looking for other great Israeli movies in recent years, let me just mention Lemon Tree, Or My Treasure, Free Zone, Tehilim, For My Father, Seven Minutes in Heaven, and of course last Fall's theatrical release Lebanon.
on April 9, 2014
The ultra-pious in any religion let themselves in for a paradoxical situation. The chauvinism of castigating others for their exclusion from the 'truth' puts them in a position of having to ignore and misconstrue the reality that surrounds all our daily lives. The reaction is a retreat to exclusion, both geographically and socially. The Rabbi loves his son but the demands of his separation and his dogma intervene. Little Manaham's mother is also a product of that culture but being a woman brings more of her humanity into her son's life. The tragedy occurs when the exclusion of the father's piety is bought at the price of his son's safety. The paradox is therefore seen in the embrace of an ideology that allows little deviation for the demands of everyday living.
This excellent film reflects this paradox in a sharp, poignant way that has no villains beyond the blind ideology that imprisons its own believers
on November 18, 2014
This heartbreaking film takes us deep into an Israeli family's commitment to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish faith, and then watches as disaster strikes. Beautifully made and convincingly acted. The actor playing the boy is particularly impressive.
on January 2, 2011
A film made with great simplicity and coherence.The orthodox rabbi who leads his Haredi Hassidic community,giving sermons of God's absolute love for humans,who are Jewish and follow the Torah.He is deeply loved by his wife and his pre-Mitzvah son,Menahem(Ilan Griff).The young boy is respectful of his father and has a place in the synagogue,where he peeps at his father's all-knowing eloquence or falls asleep.His wife,Esther(Bar) loves Menahem dearly and wants him to love his father reverently.She intervenes when Abraham(Dayan),reprimands Menahem for keeping a picture of idol worship amongst primitive people,telling him to rip up the picture.The rabbi also is irritated that Menahem thinks animals have souls,after seeing a dog's slavish loyalty to its owner taken away in an ambulance.This film is made with hand held digital cameras and music of great tenderness and empathy.
Menahem is curious about the natural world,studying a dove's nest with its chicks.His father makes the mother dove depart(a commandment in the Torah)leaving the chicks to fend for themselves.Menahem wonders what will become of the chicks,what will happen to the mother.The rabbi thinks that God is all merciful.However on a trip to the Dead Sea, Menahem's mother is separated according to the rules from the men,she goes to a separate female beach.Menahem and father bathe in the Dead Sea,but when the time for prayer comes round the rabbi moves off further up the beach,inland on a raised platform of rock,having beseeched Menahem to hurry and catch up. Menahem collects his belongings and takes them towards where his father is praying,drops them,then turns back to collect something he left or just to explore.While the rabbi is absorbed in leading prayer, he loses sight and contact with his son. Search parties are sent out and a helicopter.Later his son's drowned body is found.In his sermon in the synagogue, the rabbi is overcome with speechless grief.His wife says to him she would never have let Menahem out of her sight.The rabbi replies he was holding prayer as this took precedence over everything.
His slavish devotion to the straight and narrow path of the Torah has left him vulnerable with a human failing in natural instincts of care.There is no suggestion the family are not loving.This family who do not question their faith,are tested by the tragedy at its core.The movie puts the same question,hints at he the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac. Menahem's human wonder and curiosity free him from patriarchal might and orthodox belief. It compares the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac,in which a father agrees to sacrifice his son to the Lord and is given a last-minute reprieve, to the rabbi's loss of Menachem, in which God does not save the boy. Religiosity informed the rabbi's relationships with his family, and the results were sad, but neither cruel nor unloving.A parable showing over preoccupation to the rigors(`laws')of faith,can destroys one's empathy.The father may think it's wrong to weep on the sabbath,or that the son died because he wasn't at prayer.The acting is magnificent.
on April 19, 2009
This movie was recommended to me as one that is highly critical of Orthodox Judaism. One thing is for sure, the criticism is very subtle, and this might be the lamest softball attack on the ultra-orthodox world that I have seen or read.
The interaction of the three main characters (Rabbi, wife, and son) is absolutely beautiful, incredible. This movie to me is an advertisement for having a religious family. If David Volach told me this was his secret motive of the film, I would believe him.
A 9-10 year old kid is not equipped to deal with the deeper philosophical questions in life. No responsible father whether he was Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim would rock the boat and open up a venue for religious debate with his young, fragile, impressionable young boy. Suicide bombing is not a problem in the Jewish world, so parents can usually count on having these deeper, philosophical discussions about the meaning of life with their children after the ages of 17-18.
The scene where the son is put in a position to possibly drown is a very, very hard sell. It is very hard to believe that a rabbi is going to leave his son unattended in such a way. Even if this was a true story, it is disingenuous to project the actions of one errant father on the entire ultra-orthodox community.
It is also hard to believe that it would take 5 minutes for a kid to put on his sandle, whereby the father would lose patience and go pray on his own. Thus leaving an opening for the young boy to hop in the Dead Sea completely by himself and drown (a sea that everyone floats on).
The director clearly has an axe to grind with the Jewish People, specifically the ultra-orthodox world.
I think anyone who finds this movie to be a strong attack on the ultra-orthodoxy should reexamine their prejudices, cultural understanding and historical knowledge of the Jewish People.
If someone is going to criticize religion, at least do so with real ammunition (e.g. Richard Dawkins, Karen Armstrong, or Christopher Hitchens). Dawkins specifically fires live ammunition with his rabid Atheism. Volach's attempt amounted to throwing wiffle softballs at best.
Lastly, it is offensive that anyone would think a dog, a cat, or any other animal is equivalent to a human being. I am an animal lover, but they clearly are not living with the same level of intelligence, self-control, and Divine purpose as human beings.
I personally know very little about the Jewish faith, but it seems peculiar that Volach did not elaborate on the well-known fact that Judaism believes animals do in fact have souls, a nefesh. Humans have an animal soul (nefesh) and a human soul (neshama). This was a major omission, but did not fit into Volach's agenda.
I give this movie three stars for its accurate portrayal of the beauty and sanctity of Jewish religious life.
on March 21, 2010
I finished watching this film a few minutes ago. It was a touching look into the life of three main characters whose lives were ruled and ultimately destroyed by a dogmatic adherence to religion. All the acting was superb, with special note of the son. While the film clearly portrays the orthodox Jewish religion as blind, it does so thoughtfully. It was a perfect example of how in order to follow (any) religion one must give up one's critical thinking skills and those who question must be put in their place/stopped. An open mind is a threat to orthodoxy of any kind. Kudos to the director and writer.
on December 5, 2010
There is a Jewish religious story that posits Wisdom (understanding of God's purpose) as a palace within a garden. Of the four types of students who study God's wisdom (of which the Torah is the first rung), only one makes it into the palace. Another commits suicide, a third goes mad, and a fourth becomes an apostate (rebels against the religion). This movie represents the fourth type.
There may indeed be some who believe in God the way the rabbi does in this movie. This type of fatalistic, totalitarian belief is but one version of any religion, especially Judaism with its many streams, beliefs and opinions. Even among the Orthodox there are many streams. "Ultra-Orthodox" seems to be an coverall term describing all Orthodox Jews, and that is simply not so. The movie rabbi's understanding of the bird and its hatchlings commandment is totally off base. He doesn't begin to make it into the garden of wisdom.
Even though the director, David Volach, describes this movie as a personal statement, not to be seen as general condemnation of all religion, it would be very difficult not to see it as a general condemnation of Judaism. A second opinion is never offered. It's an all or nothing situation.
Volach was raised Orthodox but rejected it and became secular. If this is what his training was based on, his decision is easy to understand. In context of modern day Israel--particularly remembering that Israel was established after the Holocaust--this film explains why so many Jews reject religion and become secular. The movie advocates apostasy--rejection of the religion. How sad.
It's manipulative and quasi-artistic. Real Judaism would never advocate relinquishing physical nourishment, care and love for the sake of the sterile spiritual-only love of God. Real Judaism, whether Orhodox, Conservative or Reform (along with all the substreams within each movement), has always tried to mix the spiritual with the physical.
Worth seeing for the sake of discussion, but ultimately this is a depressing and manipulative movie. I'd recommend A Serious Man as 1) a much better movie; and, 2) leading to much deeper discussions.