There wasn't much in this year's Lincoln Center Film Society's 15th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival that particularly attracted me, at least at times I didn't have a conflict. I'm only going twice. The first time was last night, for a pair of 52 minute documentaries.
The first shown (contrary to the schedule) was Keep Not Silent: Orthodykes. Things got off to a rocky start when they started showing the film without sound--rather ironic, given its title. After a few minutes of yelling and clapping by the full-house audience the projectionist restarted with the soundtrack on.
It is the stories of three Jerusalem women who are both observant Orthodox Jews, and lesbian. How they reconcile these two seemingly contradictory aspects of their lives was the subject of director Ilil Alexander's first film. Though Keep Not Silent does suffer here and there because of her inexperience, it is still a powerful documentary.
Alexander had to overcome the needs of her subjects to remain anonymous. Pseudonyms were used. Only one would let her face be seen. Alexander used a blurred webcam picture for one, and just shot the last from the rear. There were a lot of scenes shot through curtains, which became kind of symbolic of the basic contradiction--a little light could get through, giving a hazy image, but there was no way for the two sides to really see each other.
It was the two older women who needed complete anonymity. They were both married, one with ten children, one with six, and it was the danger to their children that was the women's biggest concern. Quite simply, if it were known that their mother was lesbian, their opportunity for "good" marriages would be destroyed. In fact, no parents would even permit their children to enter her home.
"Miriam-Esther," the mother of ten, is totally in the closet. Not even her husband knows she is lesbian. She has suppressed her sexuality for twenty years, consciously avoiding becoming friends with any woman she thought she might become attracted to. "Ruth" leads a double life, with both a husband and a woman partner. But her husband discovered the secret, and came to the conclusion that it was better to keep the family intact, even if he had to tolerate his wife having a couple evenings a week with her lover. Finally there is "Yehudit," younger and single, who decides to openly enter into a commitment ceremony with her partner--while still planning on raising children in an Orthodox home.
The film gets confusing here and there. At the beginning there is talk of two women agreeing to participate in the film, yet there are three. The young couple are seen planning their commitment ceremony, yet they did not follow those plans. No explanation is given. My other major complaint is the inclusion of a series of lengthy landscape shots, that I suppose were intended to set a somber mood, which was not the least bit necessary--even the most joyful scene, the commitment ceremony, was saddened by a cellphone call to Yehudit's parents.
The film has been around since 2004. In fact, it was shown here last summer by NewFest, the New York LGBT film organization. It has been in various film festivals all over the world, and has won a number of awards. While I don't think it is quite as well-made as Trembling Before G-d, which focuses more on gay and lesbian Orthodox Americans, it is a bit better in explaining how some people are handling their duality.
I posted my comments on the film that followed here.
2 hours ago