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In The Secrets, two brilliant young women discover their own voices in a repressive orthodox culture where females are forbidden to sing, let alone speak out. Naomi, the studious, devoutly religious daughter of a prominent rabbi, convinces her father to postpone her marriage for a year so that she might study at a Jewish seminary for women in the ancient Kabalistic seat of Safed. Naomi's quest for individuality takes a defiant turn when she befriends Michelle, a free-spirited and equally headstrong fellow student. When the pair encounters a mysterious, ailing foreigner with a disturbing past named Anouk (the iconic French actress Fanny Ardant) they begin a risky journey into forbidden realms. In the hopes of easing her suffering, Naomi and Michelle secretly lead Anouk through a series of Kabalistic cleansing rituals. The process opens up overwhelming new horizons for the girls who find themselves caught between the rigid male establishment they grew up in, and the desire to be true to... Written by
Everyone has secrets, but some are more significant than others
Ha-Sodot (2007), is an Israeli film, shown in the U.S. as "The Secrets." It was co-written and directed by Avi Nesher. Noemi (Ania Bukstein) is a young woman who loves to study Torah with her father. She knows that, as a ultra-orthodox Jew, she can never be a rabbi, and she accepts that fact. However, she cannot accept the traditional role of wife and mother that's expected of her by her culture. She's given permission to study at a women's seminary. The school is operated by an older woman who is trying to bring learning to Orthodox women, while working within the Orthodox culture.
It's a good school, where the students are treated well and where learning and good works are emphasized. The plot revolves around one type of good works--bringing food to people in the area who cannot afford to purchase what they need. The person to whom the food is brought is a woman named Anouk, played by Fanny Ardant. Noemi is chosen to take the food because she's extremely competent, and Anouk's situation is complex and difficult. Anouk's first language is French, so the Headmistress assigns Michal, a French-speaking student, to accompany Noemi.
One of the major plot threads revolves around the relationship of the two young women with the older woman. Another plot thread is the growing tenderness between Noemi and Michal. A third thread is the difficulties for women who want to exercise their judgment in a society where the judgments are traditionally made by men.
We saw two movies at the Rochester Jewish Film Festival. The first was "Noodle." When I reviewed that film I noted that it could have been made in any developed nation--not just Israel. "The Secrets" could probably only be made in Israel. Obviously, patriarchal societies exist in many countries. However, I think that only in Israel could a film be made about people who live within such a society, and yet be shown in theaters with scenes that include full frontal nudity. That is the paradox of Israeli society--the ancient and orthodox exist in parallel with the modern and liberated.
The acting in the film was outstanding. Both Bukstein and Shtamler are extraordinarily attractive and capable actors. However, when Fanny Ardant is on the screen, her beauty and acting skill make you forget everyone else.
"The Secrets" is an unusual and compelling film. If the movie is released for theatrical distribution, watch for it and see it. Otherwise, try to find it on DVD. This is a fascinating film--don't miss it!
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