Painful yet painful
This 2003 Slamdance entry is an exercise in contradictions. We start with a slick, professional set of opening credits, but the movie camerawork is uneven. There is a painful conflict at the center of the film, but it is undercut at the last moment by a completely unrelated plot twist.
Josh Szchevisky belongs to a religiously jewish family - his father has a position in the location congregation, his mother pines for Israel where she was born, and his young brother Tzvi is studying to be a rabbi (the long curls of hair seem incongruous to me on one so young). Josh himself is a passive observant of his faith - he follows it around his family and where it's convenient. He's currently at college, studying to be a lawyer like his father. He is instantly attracted to the girl across the hall, Cheryth, who is only part Jewish. They hit it off, and instantly Josh is having trouble in school.
They never outright claim to be orthodox, but when the family meets her, and realize she is neither a "true" Jew, nor is she an observing one, well it's a civil but not all that friendly scene. Josh's mother is the one holdout, having a sense of leniency, but still, we see she hopes Josh ends up marrying a Jew.
There are a few subplots here - someone's wife who was burried in the congregation's graveyard who never converted - so Josh's father wants to quietly have the body moved. There's the matter of Josh's grades and whether he can become a lawyer. And then there's the tiniest tidbit related posters saying "libraries are killing you", which doesn't contribute much to the film until late. Of these, only the reinternment storyline is treated well. The others are picked up and left on the ground with complete arbitrariness.
It's too bad. There's a great, powerful and painful story here that could have stood some more revision before being shot. As it is, the movie loses focus halfway, and our attention with it.
Visually, the results are also mixed. This is another digital film, shot on 24p HD format, and I was pretty well fooled on this. Money was well spent on the camera and lighting end of the project. Too bad they didn't have a more accomplished cinematographer. They move from somewhat interesting shots to stale and unemotional compositions, and transitions are mostly bad or non-existent. Some of this comes from the quick 18 day shoot, but it feels like there's more than just being rushed to blame. This film just didn't live up to its potential.
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