Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) – Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema

L-R: Rivka Bachar, Reymonde Amsellem, and Tiki Dayan in Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings). Courtesy of United King Films.

Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) brings the family drama as the Israeli Ophir Award winner opens the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.

The film is described as a comedy-drama but it plays more to the dramatic side than anything else. If you’re Jewish, you can skip the rest of this paragraph. For my non-Jewish readers, the Sheva Brachot are the seven blessings at Jewish weddings. Any meals with the bride and groom in the seven days after their wedding are a Sheva Brachot meal. If they are on a second marriage, the meals take place up to three days after the wedding. Either family or friends host the meal and in Orthodox settings, they require ten men to make a minyan. Non-Orthodox settings will just need a minimum of ten people.

If there’s something Jews know really well, it’s food and hosting family and friends. And yes, there is a lot of food in this film. But also, fighting and forgiveness. Anyway, Marie (Reymonde Amsallem) is back with her family after several years in France for her wedding in 1990s Jerusalem and the past is coming along for the ride over the next seven days of feasting.

This is the type of film that will open one up to the various customs in the Jewish community. In this case, the Moroccan Jewish community. For instance, a common custom back in the day had been for sisters to give a child to a barren sister, provided they were already blessed with many children. This is how Grazia (Rivka Bahar) ends up raising Hanna’s (Tikva Dayan) daughter after Marie turned two. It is no doubt a painful experience but Grazia knows more about Marie than Hannah because of it. Anyway, Grazia and Hanna walk Marie down the aisle as she marries Dan (Eran Mor). But even as the happy day finally arrives, Marie still feels both anger and pain. Honestly, she really wants an apology. Instead, her family believes it should be the other way around with Marie thanking them. Like I said, lots of family drama!

One of the most heartbreaking scenes comes about 71-72 minutes into the film when Hanna and Grazia are having a conversation. It speaks to the sisterly bond that the two share even they still harbor some bad feelings. There’s the moment before this point and the moment after. But once you reach this point, there really is no going back after learning that Grazia was not barren but her husband, Haim, had been infertile. Hanna assumed wrongly and it has an impact on their relationship in so many ways. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t dive too much into this aspect as the focus is, again, on the wedding meals in the days after the wedding.

Families loaning children to siblings just did not talk about it. The film’s production notes shares that among the filmmakers’ families, “two grandmothers gave two daughters to their childless sisters.” They would learn more stories about loaning while creating the film. One cannot even imagine the heartbreak that one sibling must have to give their sibling joy.

While the film itself focuses on a Moroccan Jewish family, make no mistake that it feels very much a universal story. People can either live in the past or they can find it in their heart to forgive and move forward. It must have resonated a lot with Israelis because Sheva Brachot would not have all but swept Israel’s version of the Academy Awards if it didn’t. For a film to do something like that, it needs to be really good. There is so much to appreciate about the film from the directing to the writing to the acting, etc. Between Testament: The Story of Moses (featuring Amsallem as Miriam), We Were the Lucky Ones, and Sheva Brachot, a number of Ophir-winning performers have graced my TV screen during the past week and a half.

Coming from a Jewish background, it feels weird watching a film in which the Friday night dinner blessings or Sheva Brachot themselves are in subtitles. Maybe that’s because I’m so used to hearing them in Hebrew but that’s just me. Similarly, when Kaddish D’Rabbanan (Rabbi’s Kaddish) is recited, there are no subtitles on the screen to my knowledge.

Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) is the type of film that stays with someone long after the credits finish rolling.

DIRECTOR: Ayelet Menahemi
SCREENWRITERS: Reymonde Amsalem & Eleanor Sela
CAST: Reymonde Amsallem, Tikva Dayan, Eleanor Sela, Rivka Bahar, Eran Mor, Daniel Sabag, Yogev Keinan, Anna Baziz, Idit Teperson, Yael Levental

Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) holds its Chicago premiere during the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema. 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.