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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

The Women’s Balcony movie review: men, cross women at your peril

The Women's Balcony green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
A slyly wise, hugely entertaining portrait of an Orthodox Jewish community that loses its joy when a newcomer sows discord. You don’t have to be religious to love it.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for stories about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Israeli box-office hit The Women’s Balcony opens with one of the most delightful depictions of a joyful community I’ve ever seentweet onscreen: neighbors wending their way through narrow Jerusalem streets, carrying homemade food to a potluck celebration, all laughing and happy in their party clothes. They are on their way to a bar mitzvah, it turns out, a gathering primarily defined, it seems, by the gentle humor of people ribbing their friends and family, and of the everyday greasing of the wheels that food and ritual provide. The dramedy that springs from there is all about what happens when a newcomer sows discord: their charismatic new rabbi (Avraham Aviv Alush, who recently appeared in The Shack as Jesus) is a lot more conservative than even these Orthodox Jews, and his plans for their synagogue, both the building and the congregation, cause a rift between the men and the women. (The rabbi is a fantastic example of how putting women on a pedestal is an insult, not a compliment.) The ladies in particular do not appreciate the tiny box the rabbi would like to constrain them to — he thinks that even the balcony the women segregate themselves onto, from which to look down on the services that only men may participate in, is too liberal a presence for women in the synagogue! — and so Ora (Sharon Elimelech) leads them in affable revolt. This first feature from TV director Emil Ben-Shimon and screenwriter Shlomit Nehama is a slyly wise and beautifully sketched portrait of a community under strain, and how its strong, close ties allow it to right itself again, one you do not have to be Jewish or even religious to take great pleasure in.tweet


The Women’s Balcony is now in limited release in the US and Canada, and continuing to add new dates and cities through November. See the film’s official site for more info.


green light 4 stars

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watch at home

The Women’s Balcony (Ismach Hatani) (2017) | directed by Emil Ben-Shimon
US/Can release: May 26 2017

MPAA: not rated

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • bronxbee

    sooo eager to see this movie.

  • Danielm80

    I’d been going back and forth. The movie’s been advertised really heavily in my ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Some days, it was hard to walk down the sidewalk, because it was cluttered with leaflets for the film. I wasn’t sure if it was My Sort of Thing, but based on this review, I may have to seek it out.

  • halavana

    *facepalm* this could be set in just about any Baptist church I remember from when I was a kid. new pastor comes in, tries to put us all in our place. finds himself put in his. thanks for the review.

  • Why *facepalm*?

  • halavana

    oh, just remembering a couple of “men in authority” who forgot they weren’t Moses.

  • Awww, this movie was lovely. You really don’t have to be Jewish to like it. That said, it made me nostalgic for my Jewish upbringing even though my family and others in my community were Reform and Conservative—no special women’s section needed.

    Re “a lot more conservative than even these Orthodox Jews”: While I don’t know any Orthodox people personally, I do know that the degree of Orthodox-ness can vary quite a bit. Think of the little Hasidic kid who hung out in Zion’s store, the one who for a while was barred by his own community from going in there, presumably because Zion was too outside-worldly.

    I got a grin out of the early scene where one of the kids flips off a machine during Sabbath (not allowed), and after he won’t flip it back on, the woman who caught him at it surreptitiously turns it on herself. She follows the rules, but she doesn’t believe God will really care all that much if she fudges them every once in a while.

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