The Women’s Balcony is a feel-good, crowd-pleasing comedy that depicts what happens when extremism and traditional values collide in a Jewish community.
Directed by Emil Ben-Shimon from a screenplay written by Shlomit Nehama , the Israeli comedy stars Orna Banai, Itzik Cohen, Einat Sarouf, Igal Naor, Evelin Hagoel, Aviv Alush, Yafit Asulin, Sharona Elimelech, Herzl Tobey, and Haim Zanati. This was Banai’s first big role in Israeli cinema and she was nominated for an Ophir prize. Alush, the former Israeli teen heartthrob, was also nominated. Asulin is on the rise in Israel and she’s one to keep an eye on going forward.
This is a fascinating comedy about what happens to a Mizrahi Jewish community starts to rift following the collapse of their synagogue. For the women of the congregation, tradition, values, and their community are very important to them and they won’t stand for any extremism or patriarchal power.
When the women’s balcony collapses during a bar mitzvah, the community gets into crisis mode. They have no rabbi because he’s in a state of shock after his wife falls into a coma. Their shul isn’t in working order and it will take some time before the inspections and permits to rebuild the shul are in place.
Needing a minyan, Rabbi David enters the picture and helps out the congregation. However, he’s a fundamentalist and further to the right of any Chasidic Jew I’ve ever met. As he pushes his views onto the men, the women are tested and the rift starts to destroy families before things can start to get better. Rabbi David believes the balcony fell because the women aren’t modest enough and don’t cover their hair. Worst of all, he convinces the male congregants that there shouldn’t be a women’s section in the renovated shul. This doesn’t sit well with the women and accordingly, they rebel this decision.
The Women’s Balcony continues a streak of seen lately of brave, strong women being depicted on the big screen. Unlike Wonder Woman and Megan Leavey, this one has a male director but that’s no problem since his ex-wife won’t the script.
Neham, in writing the script, aims to tell the story of moderate Israeli Jews having to deal with extremism in their community. I’d say her message translated just fine. It shows that any religious community can respond to a crisis through passion and love.
Mememsha Films distributed the Hebrew film (with English subtitles) in the United States with a limited release beginning May 26, 2017. It will play in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center from June 16-22, 2017 and it will also play at the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Whether it will play longer than a week at either location remains to be determined. A list of other theaters where The Women’s Balcony is playing can be found here.