I’m catching up on my film backlog, anyway. My front room is multi-tasking as an office and a cinema, as well as being a living room and a dining room 🙂 . This film, starring Rachel Weisz, was about a woman who returned to the London ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where she grew up, and resumed her previous relationship with her female lover and best friend, who was married to a man. Coronation Street and EastEnders have had storylines covering some of the issues faced by LGBT people within Christianity, Islam and, most recently, Sikhism, but there aren’t a lot of ultra-Orthodox Jewish characters on screen. I’m not sure that it really got across the second woman’s reasons for her choices, but it was generally very well-written and very well-acted. The introduction of diversity teaching into schools has highlighted some of the difficulties that LGBT people within strict religious communities experience, and it was interesting to see a full-length film addressing those, and also looking at how, in general, living in a fairly self-contained community works really well for some people but not for others.
Ronit (Rachel Weisz) was living a secular lifestyle in New York, but had returned to the community where she’d grown up following the sudden death of her father, a well-known rabbi. They’d fallen out several years earlier, but it wasn’t initially clear whether that was just because she’d chosen to leave or for another reason. Two of her childhood friends, Dovid, a young rabbi expected to take over her father’s job, and Esti, were now married, and she seemed surprised by how Orthodox Esti had become.
It eventually transpired that Ronit and Esti had become romantically involved, and that Ronit’s dad had walked in on them, and that was why she’d left. Esti had suffered some sort of nervous breakdown, and then married Dovid. What didn’t really come across was the reason for Esti’s choices. There was no suggestion that she’d been pushed into marriage with a man by her family or friends, nor that she felt unable to break away because she didn’t want to leave her family and friends. Her family were barely mentioned, and she didn’t seem to have any friends! She said that it was all for religious reasons, but we only saw her praying once, and we never saw her reading a religious book, or heard her talking about religion, or just generally seeming very concerned with religion at all.
So I think that that could have been done better. Ronit had chosen to leave. Dovid was completely happy with the lifestyle in which he’d been brought up. Esti was the one who’d chosen a path that didn’t work for her … but I think her reasons could have been explained better. I just didn’t get any sense of her fighting a difficult battle between her sexuality and the religious teachings which had been instilled into her, and maybe that was a missed opportunity because it’s something that affects a lot of people.
A nosy parker saw Ronit and Esti kissing, and made a complaint to the headmistress of the school where Esti taught, and things got difficult. Esti eventually ran off, and Dovid and Ronit tracked her down. She revealed that she was pregnant – after several years of trying for a baby – but said that she wanted Dovid to set her free, because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, and she wanted her baby to have the choices that she felt she hadn’t been given. Not particularly realistically, he agreed to end their marriage, and gave both her and Ronit a big hug. It’d be nice to think that Esti and Ronit ended up living happily ever after, but I felt rather sorry for Dovid, who ended up losing his wife and the chance to be a full-time dad to the baby he’d been wanting for ages.
I think what this lacked was something like the scenes in Coronation Street in which Rana met with hostility from her mother, and tried to explain her feelings to an imam. That would have got Esti’s situation across a lot better. And there was a lot of talk about choices, rather than emphasising the fact Esti had not made a choice to be a lesbian: she just was one. A bit of explanation of some of the religious practices might have been helpful, as well – some viewers wouldn’t be familiar with Orthodox Jewish practices and would probably have found bits of this quite confusing. But, generally, it was a pretty good film, with really excellent performances in all three of the main parts.