By their very nature, fundamentalist religions demand conformity. Original thought and personal aspirations are subordinated to duty and ritual, both prescribed by scripture, be it the Bible, the Koran, or the Torah. Accounting for a small but often highly visible presence within a religious order, extremist movements tend to flourish within a patriarchal society, in which women and girls are relegated to the role of second-class citizens.
In Kadosh, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai (Devarim, Yom Yom) examines one such world: that of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. The film, in Hebrew with English subtitles, is set in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish quarter of Jerusalem and concerns the plight of two sisters, Rivka and Malka, who are constrained by the demands and expectations of their uncompromisingly conservative and regimented faith.
Rivka (Yael Abecassis), the elder of the two, has been blessed with a happy marriage to Meir (Yoram Hattab), but after 10 years together, the couple is still childless. To the ultra-Orthodox, the primary purpose of marriage is to have children, thus ensuring the continuation of Judaism; failure to achieve this goal is considered sufficient grounds for dissolving the union. Despite Rivka and Meir's obvious love for one another, the rabbi, who also happens to be Meir's father, urges his son to abandon Rivka and take another wife. The couple is torn between duty to their faith and community and their personal desire to remain together.
Malka (Meital Barda) faces a similar, equally painful, dilemma. She is in love with Yaakov, a rock singer who has left the community for a secular life and who wants her to join him. But bound by her own strong sense of religious obligation and her respect for her parents' wishes, she has consented to an arranged marriage with the crude, insensitive, ostentatiously pious Yossef.
Kadosh, which means "sacred" in Hebrew, examines the emotional and psychological toll that this form of Judaism -- and, by extension, all fundamentalist religions-- takes on women. A secular Jew and primarily a documentary filmmaker, Gitai presents his story in exceptionally lengthy takes, with little or no camera movement within the shots and long stretches of silence. The film's slow, methodical approach to its subject is appropriate, and the actors cannot be faulted. But the film is too one-sided to invite audience sympathy or even viewer engagement with the characters.
The portrait that Gitai and co-writer Eliette Abecassis present is unremittingly grim, unrelentingly depressing. The result is that the audience doesn't want to get involved in the story. Yes, the film enrages, but it's a nasty, twisting feeling, not a sympathetic or cathartic one. You want to simply wash your hands of the whole affair. Is that really what Gitai intended?