Directed by Amos Gitai
Review by Matt Heffernan
What I love most about watching foreign films is the fact that I know very little about them beforehand. All Hollywood films (and most English-language indies that are widely released) have heavy promotion, between trailers and other media exposure. Only foreign films give me the chance for a completely "cold" screening. No prejudice, no expectations, and sometimes I am completely blown away.
Jerusalem is a modern city, but for some citizens, life has barely changed in millenia. The most orthodox Jews, the Hasidim, live strictly by the Talmud -- a far cry from the more cosmopolitan reformed Jews across town. A Hasidic woman lives only to reproduce and support her husband, who is to spend his life studying the Torah. After ten years of marriage, Meïr (Yoram Hattab) and Rivka (Yaël Abecassis) have not had any children. Meïr spends his time studying at the Yeshiva, where the Rabbi reminds him that he must get a new wife, or he will be living in sin by sleeping with his current wife.
Rivka understands this, despite the loving relationship she has with Meïr. Her younger sister Malka (Meital Barda), on the other hand, has had quite enough of this orthodox lifestyle. She has been in love with Yakov (Sami Hori), a rock singer, for many years. However, she is being forced to marry Yossef (Uri Ran-Klauzner), who studies at the Yeshiva with Meïr. Rivka sympathizes with Malka -- the system is no kinder to her -- but she still wants to preserve tradition.
Kadosh (which means Sacred) is the latest film from Amos Gitai: one of the most successful directors in Israel. This film is a quiet masterpiece, which slowly, carefully, introduces these characters. Their story, especially from the female perspective, is heart-wrenching. And this is no phony Hollywood sentiment. This is real humanity, splashed on the screen, that grabs you by the heart and pulls you right into another world.
The great thing about this cast is that they are all relative newcomers. Barda is making her debut, and the rest have only made a few previous films. They are able to bring these characters to the screen without any personae getting in the way. They are so real, it almost seems like a documentary at times. When you forget you are watching actors, that is the ultimate in suspension of disbelief. This certainly is the best new film I have seen in months.
This film does manage to go further in supporting a common argument: Rosetta should have never won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year. With films like this, The Straight Story, and All About My Mother competing for the award, it becomes harder to defend the jury's choice. Maybe they just really liked waffles.
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan