Monday, December 19, 2005

Ushpizin--saw it!

OK. The Balabusta saw Ushpizin, and wants to blog a bit about it, but in the interest of not upsetting anyone who hasn't seen it and is sensitive about having the good bits revealed, she is providing this disclaimer/spacer. I'm not going to reveal anything major, (although the only major reveal is no surprise--a joy, but no surprise) but if you don't want any details at all, go away now and come back when you've seen the movie.

You going?

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You out of here?


The Balabusta can review now.

Briefly, for those of you living in caves with no access to the JPost, Ushpizin is an Israeli movie, starring Shuli Rand and his real-life wife, Michal Batsheva Rand. Set in a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem, it follows the lives of a ba'al teshuva Bratslaver couple, Moshe and Mali. Right before Sukkot, the couple is too broke to afford a sukkah, let alone a nice etrog, or food for the holiday. They also want to have a baby, and after five years of marriage are apparently beginning to lose hope.

They pray, and miracles happen. Moshe's yeshiva, which denied him money for the holidays unexpectedly comes through with a thousand dollars. At the same time, a friend of Moshe's 'finds' a sukkah no one is using, and helps him drag it home and set it up. The couple rush to make a beautiful holiday, and as a crowning touch, Moshe buys a thousand-shekel etrog.

At about the same time, two friends of Moshe's from his disreputable former life decide not to go back to prison after a leave, and take off, somehow ending up in Jerusalem, where they track down Moshe and invite themselves for Sukkot. These men, secular, criminal, and at times plain obnoxious, trigger a series of events that moves the rest of the movie to its conclusion.

The Balabusta's thoughts:

It's gorgeous. I cried. (Almost, when Mali leaves, and for real, serious tears, during the forest scene.) I don't cry at movies, it takes powerful emotion or powerful schlock, or both, to make me tear up.

Aside from one or two moments which I think may have been an editing thing, I didn't find fault with the portrayal of the Judaism or the community. Now, the Balabusta knows jack about Chassidim in Jerusalem, but given that I spent a lot of Kadosh murmuring 'say WHAT?', it looked right to me. There are a lot of small, subtle details that make the portrayal work--the way Moshe finishes Havdalah and happily offers his friends a cigarette--the way one of the guests tries to shake Mali's hand and is evaded. What people do seems to make sense throughout.

Mali is terrific. I mean, Michal Rand is really good, and the character is fabulous. I tried to think when I'd ever seen a realistically drawn, tough, beautiful, plus-size observant Jewish woman in a movie before, and have concluded that the answer is that until now I had never seen a realistically drawn, tough, beautiful, plus-size observant Jewish woman in a movie. The scene where Mali drives the rioting guests out of the courtyard and into her apartment brandishing a kebab skewer--with the kebab still on it--is worth the price of admission. It's an amazing scene. It's an amazing character.

That said, I could have wished for maybe one more female character. There's aon old Dykes to Watch Out For strip where one woman explains to another that she doesn't watch movies unless they pass the test. The test is that a. two female characters have to b. talk to each other about c. something other than a man. She explains that the last movie she was able to see at a commercial theater was Alien, since the two women in it discuss the alien. Ushpizin flunks the test. The only other woman who speaks during the movie is a neighbor who comes by on an errand, and says nothing important. Moshe has a rabbi, a friend, a neighbor whose sukkah he may have stolen, a chevrusa--Mali is apparently alone in a world full of men. I can think of a lot of reasons she might be portrayed like this, but it did bother me.

The chemistry between the Rands onscreen is amazing.

The scene where the guests first show up at the yeshiva, holding their hands over their heads because they don't have kippot is hilarious.

Anyway, I liked it. Would be interested to hear what others made of it.

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