Not Your Typical Caring Dad
You don't need to study Kabbalah to enjoy The Bee Season, but it helps. At first, the film seems yet another tribute to the hearth gods of middle America: Family, Success, Competition, and (scheduled for worship this weekend) Caring Dads. Indeed, Saul (Richard Gere) seems the ultimate Caring Dad, a professor of Jewish philosophy who is devoted both to Family - he cooks a gourmet dinner every night for his scientist wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche) - and to the Success of his two children, teenaged Aaron (Max Minghella) and nine-year-old Eliza (Flora Cross).
Unfortunately, only Aaron seems destined for Success. While he plays the cello and shines in every sort of Competition, little sister Eliza is distinctly ungifted. Now, the usual pattern for hearth-god flicks is for the ungifted sibling to discover a hidden talent that the parents don't notice at first, so focused are they on the gifted one. But then the hidden talent comes to light, preferably in a public Competition, one or both parents start to pay attention, making the gifted sibling jealous - and for one terrible moment it appears that Family, Competition, and Success will clash.
The next step, of course, is a therapeutic processing of negative emotion, followed by an even bigger public Competition in which the Family's future hinges on the Success of the previously ungifted sibling. Typically, the Competition starts before all the negative emotions have been processed. But then, at the crucial moment, the remaining bad feelings are dealt with, and with victory comes a great celebration of all the hearth gods together.
The Bee Season follows this formula to such a degree that if you listen to the insipid commentary on the DVD (and most reviews), you'll conclude it does nothing more. But as I say, it does do more, because the most important deity in this film is not a middle American hearth god but that other one, whose name is spelled with one capital letter in English and four in Hebrew.
I have not read the novel by Myla Goldberg on which this film is based, but I suspect it is the source of the film's extraordinary conclusion. Without giving away the ending of this Father's Day recommendation, let me just point out that the aptly named Saul is not the ultimate Caring Dad at all. Instead, he is a classic figure from the Hebrew Scriptures: pious, proud, and stiff-necked. And when he is rebuked, it is not really by the young daughter whom he has been pushing so hard, it is by a larger and sterner force rarely seen, or even hinted at, in what passes for "spiritual" entertainment these days.