Monday, November 10, 2008

Film Festival: Day 4


Three very different women weave a fragile bond at their local steam room, where they hope the hot water vapor might wash away their loneliness, confusion and fear. During her first year at college, Elizabeth (Kate Siegel) questions her sexual identity and struggles to break free from her strict Catholic parents. Middle-aged Laurie (Ally Sheedy) is a single mother dealing with the psychological games played by her ex-husband and the potential problems in a relationship with a much younger man. And recent Academy Award nominee Ruby Dee (American Gangster) gives another award-worthy performance as Doris, an older woman facing feelings of despair and emptiness after the death of her husband. When she meets another man, she opens herself up once again to the vulnerability of giving one’s heart to
another. Unbeknownst to them, these women share many of the same struggles and joys and separately learn to find strength, joy and beauty in their unique circumstances. By
interweaving the stories of their individual journeys, director Kyle Schickner shows how age, race, class and religion have little to do with matters of the heart. Ultimately; we all want
the same things: love and happiness. At times playful and uplifting and other times heartbreaking, Steam speaks to the universality of human experience and the resilient spirit that allows us to rebound from struggle and emerge triumphant.

I loved this film! First of all, I love the idea of having 3 simultaneous but mostly unrelated plots going on at the same time. But the richness of these characters is what makes this film a gem. While none of them are perfect, they all try to find their voice among well-meaning family members who wish to control them. All 3 leads give outstanding performances. Highly recommended!

The Secrets
The Secrets is a profound story of love between two women at an isolated Jewish seminary in Israel. Naomi is a passionate devotee of the Torah, but her Orthodox family has arranged for
her to live out her years in domestic servitude as wife to a stern student. She convinces her rabbi father to allow her to study at an all-women’s seminary (or midrasha) in ancient Safed,
the birthplace of Kabbalah, where the pious have studied the mysteries of Jewish mysticism since time immemorial. There she meets the cool, strong-willed Michelle - sent there by her
parents in an effort to tame her wildness - and they become fast friends. Soon the two are assigned to visit and feed a dying and reclusive older French woman named Anouk (Fanny Ardant), who lives near the midrasha. Sparks fly between the two young women as they endeavor to redeem Anouk from her tumultuous and terrible past through an elaborate series of Kabbalistic rituals that will cleanse the older woman of “the secrets.” By the time the rituals are complete, none of the women will be the same, as they are torn between religious devotion and desire. Avi Nesher brilliantly tackles subjects taboo to a conservative community, including feminism, sexual awakening and lesbianism. Each character is tormented over what is right and what is seemingly wrong.

I loved this film! Although a little slow in the beginning, the layers of this story become deep and compelling. Although the description above which says the film is about "a profound story of love between two women at an isolated Jewish seminary in Israel", I would argue that this film is really about the danger of too many rules. The film shows how grateful the Jewish scholars are to have the Torah and other spiritual writings, but how ultimately having rules for absolutely everything leaves no room for the decisions of the conscience. The story is beautifully acted and quite touching; it is the only film that brought tears to my eyes. And though all the characters do not live happily ever after, the film leaves viewers with hope. Highly recommended!

What better way to end my film festival experience than with 2 superb films! I hope you'll find my reviews helpful and that you'll add some of these films to your Netflix queue. Please let me know if you see any of these films and what you think of them.

Crush du Jour: Billy Currington

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