Chanshi – Sundance 2023

A still from Chanshi by Aleeza Chanowitz, Aaron Geva and Mickey Triest, an official selection of the Indie Episodic program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Chanshi offers a glimpse into the lives of Olim in Israel through the lens of the titular Orthodox Jewish woman from Brooklyn.

Everyone is on a journey. Sometimes, they transition from secular to Chasidic or they become less religious and leave Orthodoxy. Chanshi (Aleeza Chanowitz) comes from a Chabad-Lubavich family in Brooklyn and starts changing up her life when she visits Israel for Nomi’s (Marin Schon) wedding. But first, some quick backstory: Chanshi is engaged to restaurant owner Mendy (Dor Gvirtsman). She doesn’t really know him and maybe changing up her life will be for the best.

While in Israel, one of the things that Chanshi wants to do is have lots of sex with Israeli soldiers. You can see her disappointment when she visits IDF soldiers in the hospital and learns that a young woman is sitting by the bedside of her boyfriend. She certainly has a taste in Mizrahi men and ends up meeting David (Tomer Machloof). Will things work out between them? We’ll just have to wait in and see. In the early episodes, Chanshi decides to just up and make aliyah while visiting Israel. The bagel order for her friend’s party can wait. Anyway, you’d think her family would be supportive of her moving but nope, they are not.

If you’re coming for Henry Winkler and Caroline Aaron, they have very minimal screen time in the first four episodes. The series is ten episodes in total so presumably, they’ll have more screen time during the rest of the series. Only four episodes are screening during Sundance. While the first four episodes place the series in a solid direction, I want to see how things play out. It doesn’t appear that Chanshi is going completely off the derech but she definitely has different plans than her family. Chasidic communities can be pretty insular but it’s not uncommon for people to leave the community.

There are things going on here beyond the main logline. I don’t want to give it away entirely but Chanshi touches on issues that we need to be talking about in the Orthodox community. In the series, many of the young woman have a repressive sexuality. They’re raised to know only one thing: get married, make babies, and cook for their husband. Conversion therapy is one of the subjects that comes up and it’s not surprising. We’re talking about a religious community that is more conservative on social issues (liberal Orthodox Jews do exist!) so it is not surprising at all.

How is the tone? It’s a comedy but it does have a number of dramatic moments. Again, only four episodes are playing at Sundance but it’s expected to get darker and suspenseful along the away. The production notes offered comparisons to Girls, Transparent, Fleabag, I May Destroy You, Enlightened, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Pen15. I have a feeling that we’ll get to see more of what happens with the titular character as the season progresses and more layers come off. What makes the Israeli comedy series different from others is that it’s almost entirely in English and feels like you’re watching a show in Brooklyn, not Jerusalem.

I’m glad that Aleeza Chanowitz created this series and not just because it gives us authentic Jewish representation. She’s writing this show from her own experiences. Chanshi feels rather cathartic in a way and presents Israeli life through an Olim lens that we rarely see in episodic television or feature films.

CREATOR: Aleeza Chanowitz
DIRECTORS: Mickey Triest & Aaron Geva
CAST: Aleeza Chanowitz, Marina Schon, Tomer Machloof, Lee Bader, Oshri Cohen
GUEST STARRING: Henry Winkler, Caroline Aaron

Chanshi holds its world premiere during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the Indie Episodic Program. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.