The Women's Balcony Takes On Religious Politics in a Lighthearted Way
Ettie (Evelin Hagoel; A Matter of Size) and Zion (Igal Naor; Rendition) are extremely excited one Saturday morning as their grandson is ready to be called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. It's a moment of pride and joy shared throughout their tight-knit group in their small congregation. However, just as the boy is about to read the prayers, tragedy struck and the women's balcony collapses severely injuring the Rabbi's wife. This turn of events sends the Rabbi into a state of shock and the congregation into turmoil.
Luckily a young Rabbi, David (Avraham Aviv Alush; Beauty and the Baker), offers guidance and help and at first he seems to be the savior of the synagogue. He gets the permits to repair the building and, in the meantime, offers the men of the congregation a place to pray each morning. As time goes on though, it seems, while his intentions are good, he has a different plan for them. He lectures the women about changing their ways and becoming more pious and he chooses to take the money raised to repair the women's balcony to instead by a new Torah Scroll. As things come to a head, the conflicts pit congregants against congregants and husbands against wives.
Shot mostly in Jerusalem, this film gives one the sense of community evident in small congregations all over the world. The buildings, surroundings, and interiors are very cozy, promoting a sense of togetherness. This essence is a necessary part of the plot and Ben-Shimon embraces that feeling throughout the film even as the members break off into factions.
The cast is superb and enough can't be said about their sense of comradery and continuity. Hagoel is feisty as the matriarch who runs the show and gets things done, whether it is fundraising, cooking or spearheading a protest. Naor complements her beautiful as a soft-spoken man who adores his wife. Iztick Cohen (A Matter of Size) shows off his acting chops as Aaron the poor "shlub" who is gently bullied by everyone and finds himself caught in the middle of the political tug of war between the women and the Rabbi. Aviv Alush takes on the righteous leader well, evoking a myriad of emotions from the audience, but most often anger.
The dialogue is part of the reason the film is so good. The writing is smart and witty without going overboard and becoming "skitchy". The movie moves at an even pacing and alternates between the funny and the seriousness of the plot. It is also written in such a way that the audience need not be Jewish to understand it, but it certainly helps.
Touching, poignant, humorous, and, at times, aggravating and human, The Women's Balcony is well worth a few hours of one's time. I'm sure many people can relate to the ideas set forth in the film and, for me personally, it touched upon themes and ideas I witnessed to a lesser extent going up in a Jewish family.
Terrifically cast, beautifully produced and well written, The Women's Balcony has a lesson to teach us all if we are willing to listen and does so without being somber or preachy.