The Secrets (Ha-Sodot) (הסודוח)
Avi Nesher takes us inside an all-female Orthodox Jewish seminary (midrasha) in the spiritually infused ancient town of Safed — birthplace of Kabbalah. Naomi is a passionately devoted student of the religious texts. Her mother has just died, and she postpones her marriage to a humorless Rabbinical student who responds like an automaton. She and a fellow student befriend and try to save a dying woman named Anouk (Fanny Ardant) by bringing her back to G–d before she dies. The two students begin a complex relationship, including the steamiest backrubs I've seen in a long time. The performances were spot-on emotionally, and the story does draw in even those in the audience (certainly including your reviewer). The insight into Orthodox theology, and especially its treatment of women as incapable of full religious understanding and participation, not to mention condemning lesbianism without thinking it important enough to mention even once in the Torah. I couldn't help thinking, though, that the struggle the women of the seminary undertake to pry Orthodox Judaism from its misogynist roots, is inescapably futile. The theology is so rigid and dogmatic that it seems to an outsider to be irredeemable — there is no way for Orthodox Judaism to be both Orthodox and modern, even in the very loose sense of the last millennium. It is a testament to faith that these women hold unswervingly to their own beliefs in the face of all obstacles, but certainly in this case I would say that unquestioned blind faith is not a good thing. Recommended for general audiences, highly recommended for those especially interested in the subject matter.
The Secrets (Ha-Sodot) (הסודוח), dir. Avi Nesher, Israel/France 2007, 120 min. 35mm, in French and Hebrew with English subtitles
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