God’s Neighbours – a film review by Michelle Coleman

May 31, 2013 by Michelle Coleman
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It was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch Gods Neighbours, an Israeli film by Meni Yaesh about a group of young members of the Breslov Chassidic sect who take it upon themselves to police their neighbourhood and protect it from the scourge of immodestly dressed women, stores that are open on the Sabbath, and purveyors of pornographic material.

Scene from the film

Scene from the film

Would this be a display of fanaticism at its worst, designed to portray all religious Jews in a negative light?

I was happily proved wrong. Certainly, the images of protagonist Avi with his friends Yaniv and Kobi in their kippah-clad heads mercilessly beating up a couple of Russian immigrants who had dared to play loud music on a Friday night, were disturbing. Certainly their marijuana-smoking and whisky-downing habits (only after attending Synagogue, of course), riled my religious sensitivities that said, “you should know better”.

Ultimately, however, it was the dichotomy between Avi’s extremist persona and his gentle side that made this film so tender and incredibly powerful. Avi sells fruit and vegetables by day but composes emotive Hasidic music by night, he is aggressive and violent yet brought to tears by the poetry of the Book of Psalms. These contradictions grow increasingly stark when Avi begins to fall in love with Miri, a secular young woman who has recently moved into the neighbourhood. Will he see the error of his ways and gravitate towards Miri or continue in the path of violence with his friends?

Along Avi’s path are others who will exert their influence: the Rabbi who holds these young men enthralled with his instructional stories, the elder Chassid who teaches Avi about the power of forgiveness, and even the memory of Avi’s mother who passed away when he was young. Each of these serves to act as markers along our journey with Avi in trying to find balance between religious vigour and tolerance for others.

The film’s power lies in its raising difficult questions while allowing members of the audience to come to their own conclusions. It is further enhanced by a superb and credible performance by Roy Assaf in the role of Avi.

G-d’s Neighbours (Hamashgichim in Hebrew) was released in 2012. It won the Society of Authors, Directors and Composers award during the “Critics Week” Film Festival in Cannes, France. It is being shown in Australia under the auspices of the Jewish International Film Festival.

Watch the trailer…

For more information, please contact the Jewish International Film Festival

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