The Women’s Balcony (2016) [Ismach Hatani]


Cast includes: Avraham Aviv Alush (The Shack), Yafit Asulin (Zaguri), Orna Banai (Matzav Ha’Uma), Itzik Cohen (A Matter of Size), Igal Naor (The Honorable Woman)
Director: Emil Ben-Shimon (Mimon, Wild Horses)
Genre: Comedy | Drama (96 minutes) Hebrew with subtitles


Huffington Post

“Shabbat shalom.” Bar mitzvah is a joyous occasion… everyone in their finest new clothes… some with forgotten price tags. Oops, they also forgot the candy. After a stalling action, the women retrieve the candies, which they toss down from their balcony as the bar mitzvah boy comes up to the bimah. But triumph suddenly turns to tragedy when the women’s balcony gives way and crashes to the floor. After the dust settles, the rabbi’s wife is in the hospital in a coma, and the beloved rabbi is at home in a near catatonic state. The congregation has to pull together and rebuild, but there are so many obstacles. The help from young, ambitious Rabbi David is just what the congregation needs… until it isn’t.

Each Orthodox community in Jerusalem has its own traditions and priorities. Rabbi David manages to get the rebuilding of the synagogue expedited, but with funds being tight, he feels the women’s balcony isn’t a priority. The women are very resourceful and manage to raise money for the rebuilding of the balcony, but Rabbi David says the money should be used to replace the “Bible scrolls” that were destroyed. Of course, it’s a very touchy thing to disagree with a rabbi, especially one who has helped out while the congregation’s own rabbi is out of commission. The men are more inclined to let Rabbi David lead them. The women want their balcony back… even though they hesitate to be openly rebellious. The friction is both interesting and comical.

The Women’s Balcony is a charming, fun romp through conflicting traditions of Orthodox Jewish communities. It’s fast paced, and the subtitles fly by pretty quickly at times. American audiences, even American Jewish audiences, will likely not be so well versed on the fine points of every Orthodox custom… and the filmmakers don’t take time to provide explanations. That said, it’s not that difficult to follow the broad strokes of the story. The women aren’t the kind of assertive women we see in American films… they are not comfortable being disrespectful of their men or of a rabbi. They’re limited to finding solutions that won’t cross any cultural lines. For that matter, even the men have to work within the customary norms. When their own adored but near catatonic rabbi is babbling nonsense, there’s nothing they can do… “What the big man says… we say Amen.” The Women’s Balcony explores problem solving using only the art of the possible.

popcorn rating

3 popped kernels

An Orthodox Jewish community is conflicted after the collapse of the women’s balcony

Popcorn Profile

Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Art House
Mood: Upbeat
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Gently defiant women
Language: True to life

Social Significance: Thought Provoking

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