“The Women’s Balcony”
The Path to Happiness
When the women’s balcony comes crashing down during a bar mitzvah, a local rabbi (Avraham Aviv Alush) offers to repair the damage and lead the community. But it did not take long before the new rabbi promoted a stricter interpretation: perhaps the reason the balcony crashed was because the women of the congregation were not modest enough? The women must organize to rebuild the balcony and reclaim their place in the congregation. For those of you who are not aware, traditional Orthodox Judaism forbids men and women sitting together and women are to sit above and behind the men and often behind a curtain so that they are not seen and do not distract their husbands at prayer.
“The Women’s Balcony” is a humorous, feminist narrative about finding the right path to happiness and the subjectivity of righteousness. Beliefs suggest that the men had not instructed their wives to live modestly enough and the collapse was a holy warning. This unfair theory was accepted by some and threatened to tear apart families and friends who discovered they could not agree on the status of the new women’s balcony.
Before Rabbi David’s arrival, everyone in the congregation was content. The men and women respected and appreciated each other and the roles they fulfilled. However when the new rabbi, who spoke so passionately and confidently, told the men that their wives needed to wear scarves to cover their heads, they dutifully went out and bought scarves to present to their spouses. When the rabbi chastised the women for not conforming enough, he actually caused some of them to feel ashamed of the decent lives they had led. When he refused to release the funds raised by the women to rebuild the balcony, all of the men fell silent. However, the women saw it as the last insult from a stranger attempting to change/ruin their happiness. They protested against both the rabbi and their husbands, using tailored tactics to deliver their messages.
Director Emil Ben Shimon’s first feature comes complete with a lot of effortless humor and wit. To find happiness, everyone has to discover it in his or her own way and we all now that what’s good for one may not be good for another and vice versa. Outsiders can give advice and opine but in the end every couple must find what works best for them. Unfortunately when someone exerts great influence in our lives there is an indication that we believe that we are doing something incorrectly and it difficult not to heed what they say. Here longstanding tradition is challenged by a persuasive figure.
On the morning of a bar mitzvah in Jerusalem, all the boy’s family and friends walk to the synagogue together to celebrate the blessed event. The men take their place on the lower level, where they adoringly peer up at the women’s balcony where all the female attendees observe the weekly service.
The husband, Zion, (Igal Naor) and wife, Ettie, (Evelin Hagoel) who are the most secular of the group and are at the centre of the story as a model couple until the rabbi divides them. Suddenly he began to criticize the women and Ettie was not afraid to tell her husband and the rabbi what she thought about his disapproval. She became an unofficial leader amongst the women and she was determined to make sure that the women would regain their status as equal to their husbands. In the meantime, the men are provided with plenty of opportunity to right their wrongs and remedy the rabbi’s errors. What becomes most interesting is the men are unable to defy the rabbi directly and chose to passively challenge him. Conversely, the women prefer action and they are decent, resourceful and stubborn. It is great fun to watch the women take charge of the narrative and hold on to their characters’ identities.
Using the themes of religious devotion, division between the sexes, comparing oneself to other and fighting for rights we get a movie that while very funny has a lot to say about religion in the modern world and the role of women in it. The story starts and ends with two significant events a bar mitzvah at the outset and a wedding to conclude. In between the members of an Orthodox synagogue in a small Jerusalem community interact, love and fight amongst each other after a catastrophic events strike their synagogue.
Comedic timing works very effectively in the film especially when the faithful debate amongst themselves their level of devotion. The comedic element also helps to defuse many highly contentious religious issues.
“The Women’s Balcony” is an excellent commentary on how a happy and healthy community can be upset by an unexpected series of events. One should also be wary of seemingly pious saviors that enter one’s life. A community will gain more in the long run by banding together to reach a solution with equal input from everyone even if it’s a slow and hard process.