Saturday, January 19, 2008

Movie Review- Mendy

The movie, Mendy: A question of faith, is a look at a young Chasidic Jew who decides to leave his community. It explores the internal conflict within this young man as he has to try and survive in the world outside of his cloistered community. He leaves for reasons that we cannot be totally sure of, but he says many times in the film in defense to his close friend who also left the same community, that he can go back at any time. The film explores this individual and his attempts at figuring out his life and what it means for him.

To start with the cinematography is amazing. It reminds me very much of a documentary film or a television show. It is obviously not a large corporate film house that has done this film, it is an independent film company. According to this site, Mendy's box office gross was $7123. But this lack of finish to the film and the way it is filmed gives it a base in reality, it feels as though this is real. I didn't feel as though I was a work of fiction, it seemed more autobiographical. There are even points at which the use of black and white photography is used to move the story along. Much of the film is also done in Yiddish with some English thrown in as well so you again feel the authenticity of the story and movie.

The story itself is amazing. You get a glimpse into a world that many of us do not know about. But instead of being fully immersed in the community or have the rituals and routines of the community thrust upon you, we see the world of someone who is leaving the community, someone who is looking for something more, something that was not given to him within his community. He is one that could make it there, he could become a Rebbe or a respected person in the community, so it is not that he did not fit in, he fit in well, he just wants more. He is curious about the outside world, the world of sin as he refers to it. But he also is drawn to and feels a apart of the world of the Chasidics, he is still an observant Jew for much of the film. He really struggles with even being around non-Jews. At one point, he asks his friend why he (the friend) would want to live in a world surrounded by non-Jews. Mendy is never really ready to cut his ties completely with his upbringing, it gives him structure and comfort and at times in the movie he struggles when that structure seems to disintegrate. This is a story of metamorphosis and change.

In case you couldn't tell, I really liked this film. I liked the way it was filmed and I liked the story. It seemed honest and fresh to me, it was a story of a person who has to change to find himself. This film is one that seemed to have made the film festival circuit, I would guess especially Jewish film festivals, but it is a shame that films like these do not get more attention. I know that not everyone would want to see it, but as an Indie film, it would seem to have some appeal at least in larger cities. The story is of hope and love and change, and isn't that what all really great films are about at least in part.

There is also an interesting interview in the extras for this film with one of the co-writers of Mendy, Heshe Schnitzler. Heshe was raised in the Satmar Chasidic community of Williamsburg, NY. He was even married at 18 and then left the community at 24 leaving his wife, kids and community behind. He puts some interesting perspective on Mendy and the characters in Mendy. He discusses the realities that are involved in this story and that this is not his story directly, but the story of him, his friends and others that he has heard about people who have left the Chasidic community. The interview is almost as long as that movie at close to an hour, but if after watching the movie you want to know more about "Mendy" and about the way in which this movie was created, it is an incredible interview.


Comrade Kevin said...

A question for you, if I may.

What reasons were cited for why he chose to leave the faith? Could his actions be indicative of why people leave their chosen faith and move towards other traditions?

Boxer rebel said...

There was an allusion in Mendy that Mendy leaves cause of some sexual guilt and confusion. There might have been a girl involved where he was caught with a girl, which is a big no no in the Chasidic community.

As to why Heshe left, I don't really remember him saying why he left. He did allude to type different types of people who leave, those who feel they never fit in from the beginning and so they need to get out and those, like Mendy, who were supposed to be unfulfilled by their religion, but not looking to leave the religion but were curious about the outside world. He seemed to allude that neither was totally true for him, but it seems that because of Mendy's curiosity is the main reason that is cited for his leaving that this may also be true for Heshey as well.

When you leave a cloistered community, I see this as different than changing from your faith. And Heshey did not leave Judaism and seemed to still be a "good" Jew. He still had Shabbat dinners and was still very tied to Orthodox Judaism, just didn't want to stay in the Chasidic community.

FranIAm said...

This movie sounds fascinating. I have had exposure - from the outside looking in anyway, to many Hasids.

Where I have been living until recently, Nyack, is right near Monsey NY, which after Brooklyn is the big Hasid area. You go around Monsey or surrounding areas on a Saturday and the streets are devoid of cars, but filled with black hat Jews. Satmars, Lubavitchers, the whole mishpocha.

They are dressed in many case- I think the Satmars do this- in their knickers, with white hose and big fur hats. Even in the summer. You would think you were in some shetl circa 1855.

And a very closed world it is indeed. This sounds like a fascinating movie.

Did we talk about and/or have you seen "Trembling Before G-d"?

Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful and informative review.