It can't just be that I was no fan of Rama Burshtein's first film Fill the Void. I had heard raves about her second film -- The Wedding Plan -- from people I loved and respected, so I went to my Tribecca Film Festival screening on April 26th expecting the best. But I left the theatre in dismay. To say I didn't like The Wedding Plan would be an understatement. I had crossed a familiar divide and I was ready to rant, as angry about The Wedding Plan as I had been about Ida and Son of Saul (two Oscar-winning films which I also loathed even as all my colleagues -- not to mention most of my Jewish friends -- raved). In all three cases, I had felt violated as a woman and as a Jew... or maybe best to say as who I am, namely a proud Jewish Feminist.
But there was something else impacting me this time: By the time I saw The Wedding Plan in April, I had already seen The Women's Balcony. In fact, I had already seen it twice, first at the New York Jewish Film Festival in January and then at the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival in March.
"Why compare," you might ask? The Wedding Plan is The Wedding Plan and The Women's Balcony is The Women's Balcony. They are two different films, so why not just like them both -- or not -- as you chose? Why pit one against the other? The simple fact is that my choice was not the one that mattered. What mattered was the choice of the Israel Film Academy. In 2016, the Israel Film Academy had a choice between these two films (along with many others of course). In the end, they nominated The Wedding Plan for NINE Ophir Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director), and they nominated The Women's Balcony for FIVE Ophir Awards (all in supporting categories). Then on September 22, 2016, the IFA sent Rama Burshtein home with an Ophir Award for Best Screenplay (her second!) while they sent The Women's Balcony team home with... bupkis. Obviously, this still makes me furious 🙁
CAUTION: SPOILER ALERT! PLEASE DO NOT READ ON UNTIL YOU HAVE SEEN BOTH FILMS!
OK, so here we go... What The Wedding Plan and The Women's Balcony share thematically is that both tell stories about contemporary Israeli women living in a country that is growing increasingly theocratic. From my POV, The Women's Balcony is blessed with great empathy for a large cast of fully individuated characters. The narrative is honest and the resolution is realistic. On the other hand, The Wedding Plan has a powerful central character who is surrounded by stick figures. The narrative is ludicrous and the resolution is a lie.
© Jan Lisa Huttner (6/15/17) FF2 Media
Featured Image (from left): Orna Banai (as "Tikva") and Evelin Hagoel (as "Etti") in The Women's Balcony.
Top photo (from left): Yafit Asulin (as "Yaffa") with Evelin Hagoel (as "Etti") in The Women's Balcony.
Bottom Photo: After the accident, Congregants who arrive at the synagogue find all access denied in The Women's Balcony.
Photo Credits for The Woman's Balcony courtesy of Menamsha Films.