The Women's Balcony (Ismach Hatani) (NR)

Comedy 96 min. May 26, 2017
By Jordan Hoffman
Zion (Igal Naor) is a key member of the small, proud, friendly Jerusalem synagogue at the center of The Women's Balcony. It's the type of place where you can tie your neighbor's prayer shawl to his chair so it falls off when he rises. Then one day, the roof caves in. Actually, it's the flooring from the second level, the section where women observe so the men below can pray without distraction. While this sort of bonk-you-on-the-head symbolism isn't exactly subtle, the amusing performances and spry pacing nudge this into fable territory. This may be a modern tale, but the story is from before the flood.

Rabbi David (Aviv Alush) promises to help rebuild the temple, but first he suggests that the wives dress more modestly. His are not angry fire-and-brimstone sermons; they're almost lighthearted chats "explaining" why it honors women to keep them tucked out of sight. Step 1, each man presenting his wife with headscarves, is laughed off as a joke. Step 2, when the rebuilt temple does not include a women's section at all, finds the women, led by Zion's wife, Esther (Evelin Hagoel), choosing to protest.
The Women's Balcony is one of Israel's biggest domestic hits, and it comes as the country is undergoing serious internal conflict for its treatment of women in religious life. Still, the film is wisely a comedy first and a political story second. This light and predictable movie revels in its specificity, yet it offers tremendous insight into day-to-day Israeli society.
Emil Ben-Shimon Orna Banai, Evelin Hagoel, Igal Naor, Herzl Tobey, Einat Sarouf, Aviv Alush, Itzik Cohen, Yafit Asulin, Sharona Elimelech, Haim Znati Shlomit Nehama Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Talia Kleinhendler, Leon Edery, Moshe Edery Menemsha Films

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