Kicking off Feminist February is a film directed by and starring women surrounding arranged marriages. Is it possible to have a feminist movie about arranged marriages? Based on this month’s blog theme, the answer will probably not surprise you.
Where to Watch:
Two Brooklyn teachers of different religious backgrounds find friendship in anticipation of their arranged marriages.
The Uncondensed Version:
Rochel is a young Orthodox Jew beginning her first year as a teacher in a Brooklyn elementary school. She finds a kindred spirit in Nasira, a young Muslim woman from Syria. Both live with their families, are committed to their faiths, and are in the process of negotiating their impending arranged marriages. Significantly, both experience some major BS from well-meaning women who suggest Nasira’s hijab actually attracts unwanted attention, thus defeating its purpose, and chastises Rochel’s conservative wardrobe for concealing her beauty.
In the classroom, Rochel and Nasira teach their students about tolerance, which is pretty unrealistic since it’s not content that appears on a standardized test. Meanwhile, they contend with the principal’s horrifically inappropriate tirades against conservative religions and tells the two women they’re so smart except for the religion thing. HOW. WHY.
Outside of the classroom, Rochel contends with her family’s expectation that she marry ASAP, the matchmaker charged with finding her a nice Orthodox boy, and a series of disastrous dates. Despite her reservations, her mother and aunt insist she continue with the process.
The approach Nasira’s family takes is to set her up with a friend of her father’s, who is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay older and shares nothing in common with Nasira. When she approaches her father about her concerns, he listens (!?!?!?!) and doesn’t press the issue (!!?!??!?!). My expectations of men are exceedingly low this Feminist February, so I was pleasantly surprised.
As Nasira and Rochel’s friendship grows, they experience some major side-eye from their families, and initially Nasira isn’t welcome even to go over and work on lesson plans at Rochel’s. If anything, my biggest complaint is that this tension is glossed over, never completely addressed or resolved.
Eventually, Nasira’s father introduces her to a young engineer who is a much better conversationalist and is just prettier, frankly.
Rochel, on the other hand, is burnt out with these horrible dates and finally decides enough is enough. After a major fight with her mom, Rochel leaves home to stay with her cousin, the black sheep of the family who broke away from Orthodox traditions years ago. Rochel has some serious decisions to make about what she wants her future to be.
Sensing her friend’s unhappiness, Nasira intervenes to set her up with the perfect guy. Does her plan succeed or backfire completely?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is light on plot, but I really appreciated the simplicity of this film. The shared traditions of two religions who have been portrayed as hostile to each other are highlighted, and the differences are acknowledged but fall aside. At the same time, the oversimplification of religious tension is sometimes a bit difficult to manage.
It’s nice to see conservative religions depicted positively since they are so often dismissed as being completely bizarre or antiquated. On the other hand, there is some tension hinted at in the form of Rochel’s cousin being cut off after rejected Orthodox Judaism, but this is glossed over. As mentioned earlier, both families are prejudiced towards the other, but no one acknowledges it.
All of this aside, this is essentially a story about friendship across cultural and religious divides. Nasira and Rochel have a very sweet, drama-free friendship. It’s so refreshing to have a story about this rather than a melodramatic forbidden love story.
I also really loved the treatment of teachers as people in this—most teachers in movies I can think of are only there to courageously educate and inspire the youth. Which is a noble mission, but I find it difficult to believe every classroom looks like it comes straight out of Stand and Deliver.
This isn’t necessarily a modern classic, but it’s quite sweet and succeeds in making a very different lifestyle feel comfortable and routine.