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The Tunisian-French Laura is a young woman that lives with her Orthodox Jewish family in the Jewish community in the suburbs of Paris. Her mother is a widow that left Tunisia; her sister Mathilde is having troubles in her marriage because she repressed her sexual desire based on her misunderstandings of the principles of her religion. Laura is an open minded student of philosophy and works cleaning a school in the nightshift. While Laura feels a strong passion and desire for her Muslin Algerian colleague, her sister finds that her husband had an affair with a woman and looks for an advisor that helps her to interpret the true meaning of love and the duties of a married woman. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A rare feminine/humanist take on Sephardic Judaism
This is a terrific film, centered on the life of a family of Tunisian Jewish immigrants in the desolate Paris banlieue of Sarcelle (aka la Petite Jérusalem). We follow two stories : Laura (played by the ravishing Fanny Valette) is a 19 year-old philosophy student, committed to Kant and to rationalism in the midst of a pietistic household which, to put it mildly, does not share her enthusiasm for philosophy (as his pious sister remarks, philosophers take aim at their target and hit the bullseye : problem is, they're aiming at the wrong target). So taken is Laura by Kant that she imitates his daily promenade, every day at the same time...unlike Kant, however, Laura's stroll happens to lead her past the door of the darkly handsome Algerian clandestine immigrant alongside whom she works as a janitor in the evenings. The rest is not hard to predict, but Abdou's direction is always restrained, subtle, understated. There is never a moment in which here characters' words or actions ring false. This is, by the way, one of the best portrayals of philosophy I have ever seen in a film : we often see Laura in her philosophy class, where a Derrida-lookalike prof discourses - rather eloquently - on freedom versus the law in Kant. This stuff actually *matters* to Laura, but the Law she is concerned with is, of course, the law of the Torah. Can freedom be reconciled with obeying the Law? That's Laura's dilemma, and Albou treats it with dignity yet without sententiousness.
The other main focus of the film is Laura's older sister Mathilde, played in an award- deserving performance by Elsa Zylberstein. Married with four children, she is deeply pious and sure of herself until she discovers her husband's been fooling around. Her only solace then is the ritual bath, and she seeks sexual advice from its wise attendant in order not to lose her husband. It would have been easy to treat this scene as slapstick, but instead it's done with the greatest respect for the characters involved : Mathilde, who is afraid of losing her modesty and giving way to the dark tendencies of her soul, is astonished to learn that yes, according to the Torah, she is in fact allowed to touch her husband's genitals. Watch also for the lovely scene where Mathilde asks for sexual advice from her mother (the excellent Sonia Tahar). Every dialog rings true, and the superstitious mother, who initially comes across as a domineering harpy, is revealed as a woman of depth and dignity : not because she evolves or "sees the light", but just because we get to know her better.
This is a deeply humanist film, set against a background of the utmost contemporary relevance (a synagogue is burned and a group of soccer-playing Jews is attacked by a group of masked thugs ). It's impossible to come away from this film without a deeper understanding of, and therefore respect for, an entire aspect of Sephardic Jewish culture from a feminine point of view
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