Against the Current

Arranged.jpgDon't read the reviews of Arranged (2007), a stunning little film about the friendship between two teachers in a Brooklyn public school. They systematically miss the point, which is that despite their differences, Rochel (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Nacira (Francis Benhamou) have more in common with each other than they do with the larger society. This point is hard to accept, it seems, because Rochel is an Orthodox Jew and Nacira is a Syrian Muslim.

So what do they have in common?  Here the film swims directly against the current of most independent films by inviting us to sympathize with two attractive young women who are firmly committed to female modesty, chastity, respect and obedience toward parents, and arranged marriage.  Instead of being trapped by these customs, both characters find them a refuge against the wider culture.

For example, when the school principal, a liberated woman of a certain age (Marcia Jean Kurtz) asks the new teachers to introduce themselves to the rest of the staff by sharing a "really juicy secret," Rochel and Nacira cringe together.  And I for one cringe with them.

Still, what makes the film work is not its endorsement of what most Americans regard as utterly retrograde social customs. What makes it work is its light, deft, comic touch that spares no one, least of all the matchmaking adults who drag Rochel and Nacira to meeting after meeting with men they would rather die than marry. It matters a lot that this is arranged marriage, not forced marriage. The young women get to choose, and although the choices look pretty grim for a while, everything works out in the end (with some creative tweaking that is itself a tribute to individualism and freedom).
March 1, 2009 7:11 PM |



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This page contains a single entry by Martha Bayles published on March 1, 2009 7:11 PM.

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