THE WOMEN’S BALCONY — Review by Susan Granger

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The highest-grossing film in Israel in the past three years, this good-hearted, yet provocative comedic drama is about the power of women in a battle against modern religious fundamentalism. Continue reading…

Set in an older Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, it begins with a celebration as Etti (Evelin Hagoel) and Zion (Igal Naor), along with the rest of their close-knit congregation, parade from their homes through the streets to the synagogue for the Bar Mitzvah of their grandson.

Suddenly, during the service, the synagogue’s sex-segregated balcony for female worshippers, collapses. The wife of elderly Rabbi Menache (Abraham Celektar) is hospitalized in a coma, leaving him confused and depressed.

Awkwardly gathering in the only space available, the male members of the Mizrahi congregation don’t have the 10 men needed for a minyan when, seemingly out of nowhere, appears Rabbi David (Avraham Aviv Alush) with some of his seminary students.

Soon fanatically zealous Rabbi David is not only supervising the reconstruction of their synagogue but also reprimanding the women for their immodesty, urging them to cover their hair, and insinuating that the accident occurred because of the sins of the women.

When the women realize that there’s no place for them in the newly rebuilt synagogue, they raise money for a new balcony, only to discover that patriarchal Rabbi David intends to spend their funds on a new Torah scroll.

That incites a female rebellion, bravely led by determined Etti – reminiscent of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Plus, there’s a romantic subplot involving Etti’s niece (Yafit Asulin) who falls in love with Rabbi David’s assistant (Assaf Ben Shimon).

Screenwriter Shlomit Nehama grew up in a religious family in Jerusalem and was inspired by the women in her neighborhood. And according to director Emil Ben-Shimon: “This film raises questions about whether every believer can choose his or own path of faith…and the price of extremism.”

In Hebrew with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Women’s Balcony” is a celebratory 6, offering a revelatory glimpse into a compelling dilemma.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.