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The year 2000 approaches in Jerusalem's Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter, where the women work, keep house, and have children so the men can study the Torah and the Talmud. Rivka is happily and passionately married to Meir, but they remain childless. The yeshiva's rabbi, who is Meir's father, wants Meir to divorce Rivka: "a barren woman is no woman." Rivka's sister, Malka, is in love with Yakov, a Jew shunned by the yeshiva as too secular. The rabbi arranges Malka's marriage to Yossef, whose agitation when fulfilling religious duties approaches the grotesque. Can the sisters sort out their hearts' desires within this patriarchal world? If not, have they any other options? Written by
a passion-play for animated issues rather than a portrayal of flesh-blood-and-complexities real people.
Here is a film which clearly banks on being marketed as exotica to audiences unfamiliar with its subject matter.
An attempted hybrid of fiction and document, "Kadosh" clumsily falls in between the chairs. As a documentary, on the one hand, it is neither accurate nor insightful. To realize its sloppy handling of detail, one needs to go no further than the opening scene where it is quite obvious that the ultra-orthodox protagonist does not know even so much as how to properly put on his t'filin. More generally, the tedious rote-style presentation of details (in this case of Jewish ultra-orthodox ritual) is the role of a manual, not of a good documentary; the latter should provide an organizing principle (a gestalt, if you will) for the viewer, so that she may emerge with a better understanding of the viewed. This clearly does not happen here, as ultra-orthodox ritual is being made even more enigmatic. The director seems to have done a decent job explaining it all verbally during the film's release campaign; cinematically, however, this is a severe case of stuttering. As a fiction-feature, on the other hand, it suffers from flatness of character, simplicity of plot and bluntness of message. At some points I felt I was watching a cartoon. (e.g. the wedding night consummation scene - without going in detail into angles, positions and dimensions ... well, technically this could not possibly be a realistic portrayal of human sex, savage as it may be.)
There are no subtleties in this film. The clever manipulation of hints, stimulating the viewer's imagination and thought into taking an active part in the cinematic text, which I believe is a mark of a good feature, is completely absent. On the contrary: watching the movie I felt, at times, as being force-fed again and again with the same already chewed-up and way-too-obvious content. It is, indeed, as director Gitai himself put it in an interview, an architectural "shifting objects in space", and then coloring the scenes with the appropriate emotions when called for and advancing the plot on its appropriate and predictable track; but the spark, that creative, duende-like dark, inarticulable spark (let's not forget "Kadosh" is supposedly a tragedy), that which casts on a two-dimensional screen the spell which turns it into an extension of the viewers world, is missing without a trace. Perhaps a work of a visual-engineer, perhaps of an unsophisticated ideologue; definitely not of a true filmmaker. What I saw was a passion-play for animated issues rather than flesh-blood-and-complexities real people. The acting, by and large, failed to transcend this directorial flatness of an idea forced (at times even tortured) into film. One notable, though relatively minor, exception was that of the mikve-lady and the mother, both played by the excellent and seasoned Lea Koenig.
It takes more than strict adherence to a winning formula (namely, a serving of exotica, plus heart wrenching yet simple melodrama, plus a popular agenda, preferably politically correct) to tantalize my interest buds. The bottom line here, all being said, is that for a considerable portion of the movie I was simply bored. In spite of the novel, perhaps even pioneering achievement of using an ultra-orthodox neighborhood as a movie set, for which Mr. Gitai and his crew deserve all praise, I found "Kadosh" way too Nadosh (Hebrew for "trite").
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