1999, NR, 110 min. Directed by Amos Gitaï. Starring Lea Koenig, Sami Hori, Yussef Abu Warda, Uri Ran Klausner, Meital Barda, Yoram Hattab, Yaël Abecassis.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 26, 2000
Our notions of romantic love owe so much to the movies. Over the past century, they have provided us with countless role models and ideals, and have led the way in fostering the relatively modern concept of marrying for love. Can the movies also show us the flip side of marital arrangements? Can they show us how arranged marriages interfere with the secularity and global consciousness of modern life, and how marriages premised on practicalities and not love are no longer tenable in this day and age of equal-opportunity sexual desires and worldly interests acknowledged for both sexes? All this is a roundabout way of introducing the Israeli film, Kadosh, an unusual film that takes up the challenge of showing us the face of arranged and loveless marriages. Set in the Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem, the story takes place among the ultra-Orthodox Jews quartered in this tight-knit community. The focus is a pair of sisters, Rivka (Abecassis) and Malka (Barda). Rivka is married to Meir (Hattab), and although the two were sweethearts in their youth, their 10-year marriage has not produced any children. Therefore, according to Jewish law, Meir is obligated to divorce Rivka and take another wife so that he may ensure his lineage and that of his tribe. Both Meir and Rivka are troubled and conflicted as the movie opens. Their love for their religion and community is as strong as their love for each other. Meanwhile, Malka is pledged to marry the zealously devout Yussef (Warda), although her heart belongs to the rock singer Yaakov (Hori). Each sister deals with her situation in an individualized manner, although the impact of their plights on their mother (Koenig) is also shown. At the root of the dilemmas lie philosophical debates about whether women ought to be equal partners in marriage and sex or maidservants to the patriarchy. Kadosh raises fascinating questions within a compelling narrative framework, and is also intriguing for the glimpse it provides into the inner workings of Orthodox Judaism. The film's long opening shot of Meir rising from bed, dressing, and performing his morning religious rituals (among which is the daily recitation, “Thank God, I was not born a woman”) before tenderly waking Rivka, is so private and unfamiliar that it feels as though we're spying in this couple's bedroom. Many of the other rituals (the men praying in the yeshiva, the women cleansing in the ritual baths) will be foreign and mysterious to outsiders, but never to an extent that it becomes difficult to discern what is going on. Kadosh, which translates as Sacred, is a moving portrait of people trying to find an equilibrium between remaining true to themselves and their heritage.