1999 [HEBREW]

Comedy / Drama

IMDb Rating 6.9/10 10 1985 2K


Top cast

720p.WEB 1080p.WEB
1 GB
Hebrew 2.0
25 fps
1 hr 51 min
Seeds 9
1.86 GB
Hebrew 2.0
25 fps
1 hr 51 min
Seeds 12

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by the red duchess 7 / 10

horrifying, inexorable, yet full of a suppressed sensuality. (spoiler in final paragraph)

This is a very serious film about humanity sacrificed for ancient 'ideals'. The opening sequence reminded me of another austere classic, Melville's 'Le Samourai'. A husband and wife lie is separate beds. Over the credits, the husband rises and gets dressed. Simple you might think? Oh no. Every gesture, every item of clothing is accompanied by an elaborate prayer, to the point where the process becomes absurd, almost comic, especially when he prays, with due solemnity, 'Thank God for not making me a woman' (although by the end of the film you tend to agree).

Like Jef Costello, Meir lives in a bare, anonymous room, putting on his 'armour' as he gets ready to go out into the 'outside' world. The patient detail, the steady distanced camera, the emphasis on clothes and identity, all strike me strongly as Melvillean, to the extent that I wonder whether he's going out to kill someone. The nearest to this is when his brother-in-law drives through the streets of Jerusalem, urging by megaphone a retrenchment of Jews, lapsed and Orthodox, in the vengeful war against their enemies. We are seeing the charming outcome of that mentality at the moment. Maybe the comparison with a professional assassin isn't so far-fetched after all.

Another comparison, on the same lines, might be Bresson, given the focus on things, details, actions, and the religious milieu. Whether the bizarrre close can be seen as a moment of Bressonian revelation is debatable, but the relentless misery and humiliation inflicted on the female characters certainly bear his mark; rarely has such a religious environment seemed so unspiritual, like the pious provincial hypocrites in 'Mouchette'. The curious rock singer involved in an illicit relationship also reminded me of d'Oliveira's 'La Lettre'.

I reach for these disparate comparisons because I'd been told that Amos Gitai was one of the world's greatest filmmakers, and that this was a classic. I'm sure both statements are true, I'd have to watch more of his work more closely. Certainly, this film is more immediately sensual than Bresson's - the slow style, the emphasis on ritual detail (right down to the love scenes), the unforgiving milieu do not preclude moments of sensuality or shock, such as Rivka's self-pleasuring in front of her mirror as her husband sleeps, or the shocking virtual rape of her sister on her arranged marriage day, the sexual act as institutional attack, one of the most horrifying, and eventually unwatchable scenes I have ever seen.

What most impressed me about the film was its vision of two world s of time co-existing in the same space, the Orthodox Jewish sect living a rigid life, seemingly unchanged since the Old Testament, and the modern, capitalist world that mocks them. As the sister quite rightly points out, there's a big world, out there; their system is just a time-honoured excuse for men to wield power. There is a Berlin Wall between these two worlds, and when Malka meets her lover, it's like a prisoner escaping an enemy bunker, or someone travelling between two worlds in a time machine.

The film's seemingly transparent style is densely complex in its patterning. Take the first three scenes, which seem to increasingly open out - a woman in bedroom with husband; woman in social situation watching religious ceremony; woman in streets going into shop - but is actually shutting tight possibilities, as the plot, and this society, sets its deadly trap.

It's true that this plot is overly schematic - some have complained that the Orthodox Jews aren't sufficiently understood or explained. Maybe, although Meir is a generally sympathetic character, impotent in so many ways. The fate of Rivka can be read as either pessimistic or liberating - are the final sequences a (wet) dream, a final drenching in female subjectivity of a male hierarchy (including narrative)? Or is it what it seems, a horrible waste of life? The use of the unswervingly monotonous score seems to undermine scenes of apparent change.

Reviewed by Andy - Cardiff 7 / 10

Interesting and unusual.

I would agree that this film progresses at a very slow pace but the story about the secretive world of orthodox Judaism is interesting. In spite of being traditionalist Hassidism is relatively modern to the long history of the Jewish religion being formed amongst Eastern European Jewry in the 18th century, partly as a reaction to anti-semitism and secularism.

The director Amos Gitai has taken on a very difficult task in portraying this sect of Judaism. What is put across well is the incompatibility of conservative traditionalism with a secular society and how suffocating and repressive religious strictures can be. A good story but one that could have shown in more detail the contrasts between the reality of secular Israeli society and the closed world of mysticism.

Reviewed by DennisLittrell 7 / 10

What is "sacred"?

There are some thoughtful and well-written reviews both at Amazon and the IMDb and elsewhere in which it is claimed that the type of Jewish Orthodoxy presented here is not accurate. There are quibbles about the unnatural way that Meir puts on his garments. There is criticism of the selection of prayers recited, especially Meir giving thanks that he was not born a woman.

Moreover, there is the assertion that orthodox Judaism does NOT require that a man repudiate his wife after ten years of marriage even though she may be barren. Furthermore, the character of Yossef is said not to be typical of orthodox Jewish men since he takes his wife sexually without love or tenderness, that he hits her when angry, and goes about the streets of Israel with a loudspeaker hawking his religious point of view.

First, it is a shame (if true) that the way Meir dressed and recited his morning prayers was inaccurate, because such details can easily be made accurate with some research. Certainly director Amos Gitai had access to many orthodox people who could have helped him. Putting that aside, the artistic point of the opening scene was to immerse the viewer into a world based on religious beliefs and practices that are strikingly different from the secular world of today. He also wanted to introduce his theme, which is that women in Orthodox Judaism, as in the other two great religions of the Middle East, in their fundamentalist interpretations--this bears repeating: in their fundamentalist interpretations--are not on an equal level with men.

Certainly in a realistic sense, Meir, since he dearly loves his wife, would have chosen something else to recite. However, I think we can give Gitai some artistic license here. The fact that such a prayer exits in the Jewish canon is not to be denied.

Second, the film does NOT claim that Orthodox Judaism requires that a man repudiate his wife after ten years of childless marriage. Instead it makes the very strong point that, from the point of view of Orthodox Judaism, such a woman is not fulfilling her role in society, and that there will be people outside the marriage who will try to persuade him to abandon her. Gitai's screenplay contains several textual pronouncements to that effect. The fact that Meir is torn between his love for his wife and his love for his religion is really the point. How he resolves that dilemma is an individual choice, and that is what the film shows.

As for the unflattering character of Yossef, whom Rivka's sister Malka is persuaded to marry (not forced, mind you, but persuaded) he is a foil and a counterpoint for the loving and deeply religious Meir. The fact that he is not a poster boy for Orthodox Judaism is not a valid criticism of the film, since all religions have their black sheep.

I think a fairer criticism of the film can be made by addressing the question of, was it entertaining and/or a work of art?

Here I have mixed feelings. Certainly the acting was excellent, and the theme a worthy one. Gitai's desire to show the underlying similarities among the conservative expressions of all three Abrahamic religions, through their shared patriarchal attitudes toward women and their estrangement from the postmodern world, was very well taken and appropriate. Where I think Gitai failed as film maker is in his inability to be completely fair to the orthodox way of life--his failure to show the joys as well as the sorrows of its everyday life which would help outsiders to understand why people adhere to such a way of life.

I also think that the film could have been better edited. In the documentary about how the film was made we see scenes that were cut that I think should have been retained, especially the scene in which the omelette was made and the scene in which the mother critiques the life choices her three daughters have made. Instead we have some scenes that ran too long. It is a fine technique that Gitai sometimes employs of letting the silence speak for the characters, of holding the camera on the scene to allow the audience to reflect and then to reflect again. However, I think this can be overdone and was overdone, and that judicious cutting of some of the scenes would have strengthened the movie.

Bottom line: a slow polemic of a movie that nonetheless is worth seeing because of the importance and timeliness of its theme, the originality of some of the techniques, and the fine acting, especially by Yael Abecassis who played Rivka and Meital Barda who played Malka.

One more point: yellow subtitles, please!

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)

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