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La Petite Jérusalem (Unrated)

Release Date: January 27, 2006 (Quad Cinema) by Kino International.
The Cast: Fanny Valette, Elsa Zylberstein, Bruno Todeschini, Hedi Tillette de Clermont-Tonnerre.
Directed by Karen Albou.
In French with subtitles.

BASIC PREMISE: Eighteen year-old Laura (Valette), who comes from an Orthodox family, turns to Kantian philosophy until she meets Djamel (Clermont-Tonnerre), an Algerian Muslim, while her pious sister Mathilde (Zylberstein) discovers that her husband Ariel (Todeschini) is having an affair.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Although the premise sounds like it could have easily been turned into a boring soap-opera, writer-director Karen Albou maintains realism with complex, richly developed characters. She weaves the story of two siblings going through separate conflicts while living in a small Paris suburb nicknamed “the little Jerusalem”. Laura becomes obsessed with Kantian philosophy, which means she closes herself off to anything remotely sexual or romantic. Mathilde, her deeply religious older sister, questions her religious devotion when she learns that her husband is cheating on her. Both Fanny Valette and Elsa Zylberstein give convincing performance as Laura and Mathilde, respectively. The plot does get predictable and feels slightly thin, but you’re so invested in the realistic characters’ lives that your eyes become glued to the screen. It’s easy to care about Laura and Mathilde because their problems feel real without any contrived moments. Neither story becomes more important or interesting than the other. Furthermore, the direction and cinematography also allows for some well-chosen quiet and subtle moments where you just immerse yourself in the scenes.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: Mathilde’s visit to the Mikveh, the ritual bath, serves as a crucial spiritual turning point in her life where she learns Orthodox Judaism allows for sexual desire—which is what her marriage really needs. It’s no wonder that her husband goes off somewhere else to find sex. The over-arching message is that what ultimately matters is love and affection with at least some degree of freedom. Even Laura learns that she can’t easily control her deepest desires which Kantian philosophy requires her to do. Letting go of your innermost feelings instead of ignoring them can be very liberating.

INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: Slightly predictable plot.


IN A NUTSHELL: A well-written, thoughtful and engaging film!

RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)

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