By Senior Editor, Ali Coad
If this were the only film that I were to see in this year’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival lineup (and at this point, it is), I would consider the 2017 AJFF a smashing success. “The Women’s Balcony” is a film that reveals itself one moment at a time. It becomes more delightful and joyous and emotional with each passing line of dialogue, so much so that by the time the credits rolled at the end, a big, fat, dopy grin conquered my face. It’s a film that makes the heart swell. It’s so timely, so relevant to our current political landscape, and at the same time, its laudable in its ‘glass-half-full’ attitude.
“The Women’s Balcony,” (Hebrew title: Ismach Hatani) directed by Emil Ben-Shimon, begins with catastrophe. In the middle of a bar mitzvah, the balcony where the women sit, collapses. The rabbi’s health, which prior to the building collapse was less than good, mirrors that of the broken synagogue, and his wife remains in the hospital pained and injured throughout the duration of the film. Without a place to worship and a religious leader, the men search for any viable alternative… and into our feature struts Rabbi David (played, expertly, by Aviv Alush). The impassioned, charming, supremely orthodox Rabbi vows to reconstruct their synagogue and revive their faith.
And with his all of his vivaciousness and strength and leadership come, in equal measure, his firm belief in the scripture, set ideas about the faith and claustrophobic rules about women (and their respective and necessary modesties). The latter of that list lies at the heart of this movie. The men find themselves mesmerized by the charisma of this young rabbi, while the women struggle with his sense of conservatism.
So, naturally, a war of the sexes ensues… and (spoiler alert) the women do prevail. This is a film rooted in its heroines; it’s a cast that gives and gives and, somehow, even by the very end of the film, still has more to give. Ettie, played by the excellent Evelin Hagoel, leads this company of women. She refused to be relegated. She’s righteous and right and her performance is so steady. This film weaves and navigates the many marital partnerships, female friendships and religious convictions without ever being trite or condescending or cliché, and Hagoel is at the center of it.
“The Women’s Balcony” a film of strength and compassion, qualities that Hagoel radiate in her portrait of Ettie. It’s cheerful and triumphant and a movie I’d very much encourage you to see.