Arts

movie review

Here comes the Hasidic ‘Bridesmaids’

Ronny Merhavi, Noa Koler, and Dafi Alteron in “The Wedding Plan.”

Roadside Attractions

Ronny Merhavi, Noa Koler, and Dafi Alteron in “The Wedding Plan.”

God works in strange ways. So does Israeli filmmaker Rama Burshtein.

Her debut, “Fill the Void” (2012), was a tragedy of loss, duty, and reconciliation. Her second feature, “The Wedding Plan,” is a comedy about loneliness, desire, faith, and fulfillment. Both take place in the ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish community of Tel Aviv, but that unique setting serves as an alembic, not a microscope; it opens to a world whose dilemmas and conflicts are both sui generis and universal.

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The key to success in “Wedding” is Michal (Noa Koler), whose delightful strangeness is further unveiled with each scene. Confronted by a Hasidic wedding counselor, she is grilled for her real reasons for getting married — all the while having her face smeared with a stinky fish paste. She confesses that she doesn’t want to get married to please God, but to force God to prove to her that she has the right to be happy, normal, and not alone.

Cut to the next scene and she is cross-examining her fiance with similar intensity (minus the fish paste) about what he really thinks of their upcoming wedding. He finally admits that he doesn’t love her, and the wedding is off.

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But not really. Michal decides to go ahead with her plans to be wed in 30 days on the Eighth Night of Hanukkah. She books a venue, sends out invitations, and buys a wedding dress. God will provide the groom. He better.

One reason you suspect she might succeed is Michal’s paradoxical and overbearing confidence and self-doubt. And how can you not have confidence in someone who makes a living by running a mobile petting zoo, which explains the appearance of a snake, parrot, and guinea pig early in the film?

The gaily decorated van in which she transports her menagerie is — as described by one of her unlikely suitors, a famous rock star (Oz Zehavi) — a mini ark with the approaching catastrophe being the rest of Michal’s life.

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Consider it the PG-rated, Hasidic version of “Bridesmaids” (2011), and like that movie the comedy is rooted in pain, eroding hope, and triumphant faith.

It also includes one of the best uses of a religious shrine in cinema. In a visit to the tomb of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Ukraine, Michal weeps in despair, telling God that she is a liar, that she feels nothing, that she cannot find Him anywhere.

A small voice speaks from behind the wall and consoles her.

½
THE WEDDING PLAN

Directed and written by Rama Burshtein. Starring Noa Koler, Amos Tamam, Oz Zehavi. At Kendall Square, Coolidge Corner, West Newton. 110 minutes. PG (thematic elements). In Hebrew, with subtitles.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.
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