Release Date: May 12th, 2006 (Cinema Village)
The Cast: Ivan Sandomire, Gabriela Dias, Spencer Chandler, Deana Barone, Jonathan Hova, Elizabeth Cano, Kristen Cecala, Isaac Stein, Uzi Parnes.
Directed by Adam Vardy.
In English and Yiddish with subtitles.
BASIC PREMISE: Mendy (Sandomire), a Hassidic Jew, gets tempted by his brother Yankel (Chandler) into leading a secular lifestyle involving drugs and sex.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Mendy has plenty of dramatic tension and suspense, yet still manages to be character-driven rather than to rely on plot twists as a way of entertaining the viewer. Ivan Sandomire gives a perfectly nuanced performance as Mendy, who comes across as a confused young man who is simply at a turning point in his life in the first act. In the past, he had been strictly devoted to Orthodox Judaism which prohibited him to have sex before marriage among other “vices”. Now, Mendy leaves his family behind him and moves in with his free-spirited brother, Yankel, who lives with a beautiful Brazilian roommate, Bianca (Dias). Bianca represents Mendy’s sexual temptations, especially given that she works at a strip club. The pivotal moment that shows his official transformation is when he cuts his payot—extra long sideburns that every Hassid man must grow. How much further will he go down the sinful path of secularism? When Yankel hooks Mendy up with a job in the drug trade industry, Mendy has a choice to reject the offer, but chooses to accept it even with the risk of getting arrested at the airport. Fortunately, director/co-writer Adam Vardy has written a true-to-life script that takes its time to get to know its complex characters so that none of them can be labeled as good or evil. By avoiding stereotypes and keeping the character development flowing organically, he has created a genuinely absorbing with a refreshing dose of realism.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: When faced with a crucial, life-changing decision, Mendy sacrifices his religiously fanatic lifestyle in exchange for freedom. However, this freedom doesn’t allow him to be truly happy with himself. It’s very thought-provoking and moving to watch him long for the simple and focused Hassidic way of life which has its concrete rules regard how to live one’s life written out explicitly in texts. Yankel makes an interesting rebuttal that modern, secular lifestyles also have rules and laws to abide by as well. Basically, Mendy doesn’t seem happy in any extreme lifestyle—whether it be extreme religiosity or extreme freedom. His struggle to find the right balance between two extremes is profoundly insightful and inspirational. It represents a universal struggle which everyone must go through at some point their life to reach maturity and, above all, to be truly content with oneself in this chaotic world.
INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: None.
NUMBER OF TIMES I CHECKED MY WATCH: 0
IN A NUTSHELL: An indie gem! Profoundly moving and inspirational! A must-see!
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)
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