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 ...
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An uptight and conservative woman, working on tenure as a literacy professor at a large urban university, finds herself strangely attracted to a free-spirited, liberal woman who works at a local carnival that comes to town.
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
This is an absolutely amazing film. I have never seen an Israeli film before and didn't even know there were any. I bought the DVD because it featured Fanny Ardant and I like watching her. I don't know why Fanny Ardant is so totally fascinating, she just is. Quel surprise! Nom de Dieu! etc. I could hardly believe my eyes when the film opened with credits in Hebrew, a language in which I fear I am deficient and cannot even spell 'Moses', much less 'Ezekiel'. What unfolded before my amazed eyes was a truly wonderful film, a rich tapestry of conflicting traditions, longings, emotions, and a battle for the freedom of women from their intolerable suppression by the Ultra-Orthodox Jews and their notion of what they call 'the Law', a 2500 year-old codification of behaviour to which they appear to be utterly mentally enslaved. This portrayal of them by an Israeli filmmaker is extremely shocking. If anything is calculated to make one despise Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, this film is it, and it was made in the very country where so many of them live and where they are even represented in the Parliament. As for the story, it centres around two girls from religious families who meet as a result of having gone to study in a yeshiva (seminary), where they pore over religious texts and discuss what Deuteronomy means and such fascinating subjects as that. So restricted are these people in their thought processes that they are not even supposed to read the Talmud, but only the Torah. They are not supposed to study Kabbalah because that is heresy, and their persisting in doing so is an important part of the story. The two girls are utterly charming, played to perfection by the intense Russian-born Ania Bukstein as the character Naomi and 'Michal' (i.e., Michelle) Shtamler as the character Michelle. Their relationship begins with difficulty, because Naomi is humourless and serious, a brilliant scholar whose father is a famous rabbi, and she is engaged to the world's greatest bore, a horrid young rabbi pupil of his who is arrogant, humourless, grim, offensive in every way, and without a single redeeming quality. Michelle is a happy go lucky type with a smile that could melt the Arctic Ice Cap and the two girls are so different they have trouble hitting it off at first. Eventually, however, their friendship deepens so much that they become lovers. I can imagine the Ultra-Orthodox rioting in Jerusalem over this! It takes a very long time indeed for Naomi to lighten up, and to free herself from the brain-washing of her father and her upbringing, and to break off the engagement with the young monster rabbi. Intimately interwoven with the two girls' story is their encounter with a strange older woman in the same town, a character named Anouk, played by Fanny Ardant. Only Michelle can speak both Hebrew and French, but the two girls become drawn into the mysterious life of Anouk, who has come back to the town to die, as she has terminal cancer. Through her brilliance as a scholar Naomi finds rituals drawn from the forbidden Kabbalah to purge Anouk of her past sins, in order to ready her for death and to be 'forgiven by God'. Along the way, Naomi is shocked to discover that Anouk is not even Jewish, but her love for her past Jewish lover, whom she killed in a quarrel (she has spent 15 years in jail as a result), makes it psychologically necessary for her to go through this process. The girls risk their reputations by trying to help Anouk, and are eventually expelled from the yeshiva for heretical acts and for daring to go to Anouk's hospital bedside on the Sabbath. The film is made with such honesty and intensity, and such raw passion, that it is a searing cultural, religious, and social document as well as a human testament of immense power and relevance. All of the performances are intense and convincing. The minor character of Yanki, who should have been a rabbi but chose instead to become a musician, is charmingly portrayed by Adir Miller, who with self-deprecating smiles endears himself to everyone. The main performances by Ardant, Bukstein, and Shtamler are so radiant and compelling that this film is an instant classic. It should really be seen by anyone who likes great cinema, but even people indifferent to such things should watch it if they have the slightest interest in the Middle East, as this says so much about the melting pot which is Israel, where crazed fanatics and easygoing liberals live uneasily side by side. (Does it remind you of Beirut?) People complain about the intolerant and insane Wahabbi Muslims, but what about the Ultra-Orthodox Jews? They both suppress women, are totally humourless, and propagate grim doctrines which recommend a kind of hell on earth. Truly the extremists of the Middle East deserve each other. But do we deserve either of them? In any case, we do deserve this wonderful film, and it deserves us, in the form of our attention and admiration.
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