Review by Kristina Campbell
Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Sunday, 10/19/2008, 6:30 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at 6th & I Synagogue
French and Hebrew with English subtitles
SET IN ISRAEL, The Secrets opens with an exploration of the tension between Orthodox Judaism’s definition of the female’s role in society and one young woman’s devotion to religious study. Naomi, who is due to marry a few months after her mother’s death, asks her yeshiva master father if she can postpone the wedding so she can go to seminary to collect her thoughts and feelings. Once she arrives, in the sacred city of Safed, she meets her roommates, including the intriguing Michelle, who has been sent back to Israel after living for several years in France. Naomi and Michelle end up paired together on a social outreach mission to deliver food to the mysterious Anouk, a cancer patient with a troubled past.
When the girls learn the story behind Anouk’s past and ostracism from the local community, they also discover how she yearns to be close to God before she dies. Naomi’s religious knowledge proves useful as she takes a scholarly approach to craft a special Talmud for Anouk.
Along the way, Naomi and Michelle grow closer and find their feelings developing beyond the joint project of helping Anouk. After a night of passion, Michelle is confused and rejects what they shared. Naomi reassures her that the Bible says sex between men is forbidden, but it says nothing of sex between women, which placates Michelle for a while. But she remains conflicted and turns to Yanki, a local klezmer musician who has been charming her during her stay in Safed. ”I want a normal family,” she tells a crumbling Naomi.
The most poignant moments in the film come when Yanki is trying to convince Naomi to look past her broken heart and join the celebration of his marriage to Michelle. ”She loves you even more than she loves me,” he tells her, and adds that while he may not be an expert in matters of the heart, he does know some things about music. In music, he says, students are taught to do things the traditional way. But sometimes the untraditional way is much better. Naomi is left to decide whether to embrace Michelle’s decision, and the viewer anxiously watches to see how their encounter plays out.
The Secrets gives an in-depth look at Orthodox Judaism in Israel, using characters with depth and complexity. It’s a secret worth sharing.