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I was interested to see this recently released film directed by Chilean Sebastian Lelio as I had read the book by Naomi Alderman and I have family who live in the Hendon Jewish community in which it is set.

The novel – Naomi Alderman’s first – won her the Orange Prize but was not without controversy: one Jewish newspaper refused to review it an it did not go down well in that community.

The story is of the return to the community of Ronit, a photographer based in New York, after the death of her father, a Rabbi and Talmudic scholar.

Her cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) is the heir apparent to the Rabbi as spiriual leader of the community.

Before leaving suddenly for New York as a photographer, Ronit (Rachel Wiesz) had a lesbian fling with Dovid’s wife Esti (Rachel McAdams) which reignites on her return.

The community close ranks and Esti is conflicted between her adherence to her marriage and values of that community and her repressed sexuality.

Spoiler alert: in the final hour, Ronbit leaves the house of Dovid and Esti where she is staying twice: Esti disappears, admits her attraction to Ronit to her husband, asks to be set free and he renounces his acceptance of his role as successor Rabbi.

I enjoyed the book for the depiction of the community but this is harder to achieve on screen.

Ronit is definitely the major character but perhaps Rachel McAdams had insisted on equal billing as she now has a major role too. This shift from one to another is a departure from the novel – as is the ending when Ronit is ruthlessly and efficiently debarred from the community by her uncle Moshe Hartog.

In the film Esti chases after her in her taxi as she departs.

The film is in actuality a triangular love affair and reminded me of John Schlesinger’s “Sunday, Sunday Bloody Sunday “ starring Peter Finch, Glenda Jackson and Murray Head, with the difference that the ménage features homosexual attraction. It also has a synagogue scene.

The film has only just been released but the cinema was half full, poor for a Thursday early evening. It has fine acting by both Rachels but I can’t see it as a commercial, as opposed to critical, success as I wonder what audience it will attract.

The 114 minutes passed quickly enough, the sex scenes were no more than kissing and same-sex passion has lost so much of its impact, the scenes of suburban Hendon are drab and most of the action took place in the final hour.

As with many films based on the book, I preferred the latter.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts