VOD film review: Through the Wall
James R | On 16, Dec 2016
Director: Rama Burshtein
Cast: Noa Knoller, Amos Tamam, Oz Zahavi
Watch Through the Wall online in the UK: Amazon Prim Video / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
With Fill the Void, director Rama Burshtein delivered a nuanced, fascinating, complex exploration of loyalty and romance within the Hasidic community. Through the Wall returns to the same subject, but viewed through a lighter lens, taking those same pressures and passions and turning them to comedy rather than drama.
Our lead is Michal (Knoller), a 30-something woman who wants to get married more than anything in the world. But when her fiancee leaves her, saying that he doesn’t love her anymore, she finds herself single once again. So she does what any normal person would: she keeps her wedding date booked and tries to find a man to take her ex-groom’s place. “You’re joking?” people keep asking her, when she reveals her plan. But she isn’t: she just believes that God will provide.
That hinge upon which the whole film pivots is its strongest and weakest point. Fill the Void worked so well because it was a film that gave everyone, regardless of background, an insight into ultra-orthodox Jewish society. It normalised the issues faced within the closed community for a wider, universal audience and still treated its faith seriously – a rather unique feat, particularly in modern cinema. By taking things a shade lighter, though, that delicate balance is slightly unbalanced. Is Michal joking? No, and therein lies part of the humour.
Knoller is fantastic in the lead, managing to convey the frustration and conviction of her eccentric woman with a likeable mix of silliness and sadness; the opening scene, in which she comprehensively explains why she wants a husband so badly, moves from amusing eager enthusiasm to increasingly tragic desperation.
The movie works best when skewing on the serious side of the fence, as with the actual wedding ceremony, which begins with an enjoyably unconventional glum mood. That only highlights the lack of debate about the central premise, though, namely that Michal feels that she won’t be a complete person without a man by her side. Compared to Fill the Void, there’s also less of a sense of community to ground the ideology, with most of the supporting characters never feeling like more than cut-out bit players with some token dialogue; compare it to Israeli rom-com Beauty and the Baker, which develops each one of its ensemble to hilarious and poignant effect, and this is several loaves short of a batch.
And so we’re left with what is primarily a series of dates, as Michal attempts to find the best suitor around for God to whisk down the aisle. Her interactions with Oz Zehavi’s music star, Yoss, and Amos Tamam’s Shimi, who owns the wedding venue she’s booked (and also an excellent crooner), are charming, but the structure feels hit and miss, while the relatively shallow script doesn’t quite have enough laughs to carry you through to the end.
There are beautiful moments, such as trip to a rabbi’s tomb in Ukraine, where Michal pounds against a wall, crying out in loneliness and doubt. A voice comes back through the concrete in a surprising, interesting way. By and large, though, this is playing broad and light, which means that Hollywood conventions detract from Burshtein’s unique setting and subject matter. Faith that the writer-director will find a satisfying ending is rewarded in predictable, but likeable, fashion – if only Through the Wall didn’t go through the motions quite so much.
Through the Wall is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.