September 19, 2006

La Petit Jerusalem

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***

Ritual is primary to the sensual drama La Petite Jerusalem, as is fundamentalist thinking. This second film by writer/director Karin Albou (her first was made for French TV) begins with the Jewish ritual of tossing crumbs into the river as a symbolic way to part with one's sins. A family of Tunisian Jews have settled in France, living in the banlieue known by the movie’s title, and now that the father is dead, the son-in-law has taken over as head of the family. The movie centers around his wife, played by Elsa Zylberstein (Mina Tannenbaum, Farinelli), and her younger sister (Fanny Valette) and the slight plot revolves around the former's struggles to sexually please her straying husband, while the sister's drawn equally to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the face and body of immigrant Muslim journalist.

When the Jewish family rejects the Muslim and his family rejects the Jew, what's a young girl to do? Not much, as it turns out, but enough, at least, to keep foreign film fans alert. Albou is as yet no great shakes as a writer (everything is set up in obvious fashion, and the dialog is just okay), but she possesses a nice visual sense. Her romantic/sex scenes are shot in extreme close-up, as the camera twists and turns as if it were "the other," and her "take" on family and school life seems lived-in and believable. If Valette's Laura appears a bit too quick to forsake philosophy, and her sister Mathilde turns out to be a quicker-than-normal learner of the sexual arts, we can forgive them - for the interesting religious rituals on display and the sadly typical, set-in-stone thinking of the fundamentalist families in this modern-day, halfway-to-Romeo and Juliet tale.

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Posted by cphillips at September 19, 2006 11:57 AM