Contemporary World Cinema

The Women's Balcony

Emil Ben Shimon

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An accident during a bar mitzvah celebration leads to a gendered rift in a devout Orthodox community in Jerusalem, in this rousing, good-hearted tale about women speaking truth to patriarchal power.

The day of Osher's bar mitzvah begins auspiciously, with happy guests in their Sabbath best making their way through Jerusalem's streets. They congregate in the synagogue, and the men look up adoringly at the women's balcony where their wives, daughters, sisters, cousins, and grandmothers are gathered. Then disaster strikes: the floor under the balcony gives way, leaving several people injured and one comatose. Most everyone regards the collapse as the tragic result of a structural flaw. No one stops to wonder if it might have been a message from God. Until Rabbi David comes along.

Rabbi David is a young, righteous man, and the congregation gathers around him now that their elderly rabbi is distraught and confused in the wake of the accident. Taking advantage of his new-found authority, he insists that the men have not done enough to ensure their women's modesty, and that the balcony tragedy is a divine warning to that effect. This leads to a clash with Osher's grandmother Ettie, a pious woman who cannot accept the notion that God demands blind subjugation. "God gave us minds to think for ourselves, didn't he?" she asks Rabbi David at a Passover dinner that turns bitter. Ettie and her friends raise money to restore the women's balcony, but Rabbi David decides to distribute those funds elsewhere. A feud breaks out, driving a wedge between husbands and wives — one that they can only repair by coming together in faith and harmony.

Awash with the effulgent glow of Jerusalem's distinctive light, Emil Ben Shimon's feature debut is a warm, poignant portrait of a modern Orthodox community struggling to balance protocol with practical, progressive values. A rousing, good-humoured tale of women speaking truth to power, The Women's Balcony is at once rebellious and respectful in spirit.


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