Women (Nasheem)


(Israeli Drama color

Montreal World Cinema Festival 1996
A careful historical reconstruction of a by-gone era in which Jews and Arabs co-existed peacefully in Jerusalem, marks Moshe Mizrahi's new film, Women, an enchanting tale of a polygamy that was actually sanctioned by religious tradition.

A strong central performance by Michal Bat-Adam, as a bright, pious, self-sacrificing woman, and authentic ambience of time and place compensate for a slight, often slow-moving narrative that would have made a great short. Result is an enjoyable film that should definitely be included in the next Israel Film Festival in the U.S. and perhaps even get a limited theatrical distribution in cities that have large Jewish and Israeli communities.

Set against the luxuriant backdrop of a magical Jerusalem at the turn of the century, Women is the closest thing moviegoers are ever likely to see of a Judaic version of that uniquely French concept, menage a trois. Startling, if also simple tale centers on Rebecca (Bat-Adam), devout and loving wife of Jacob (Amos Lavi), a respected Sephardic rabbi well versed in the Kabbala. After 15 years of blissful marriage, the barren Rebecca feels she has failed her husband–and her duties as a wife–for she has been unable to bear him any children.

Jacob doesn't seem to mind, but the strong, highly determined Rebecca suffers deeply; she's also the subject of gossip and criticism by her mother-in-law and other members of the community. In a self-sacrificing manner, Rebecca comes up with an original if unconventional solution, a virginal 18 year old orphan to wed her husband and provide him with a son.

Initially reluctant, the husband gives in when he realizes that Rebecca is motivated by boundless selfless love–and genuine religious conviction. Nonetheless, as soon as the wedding is over, complications ensue when members of the unorthodox triangle try to perform their expected duties. Human nature being what it is, the generous, big-hearted Rebecca is slowly transformed into an overly sensitive, insecure and jealous woman who can's tolerate seeing her husband smitten by his younger, more beautiful wife.

Director Mizrahi must have realized that the story is extremely simple and modest, for he has smartly chosen to focus on a meticulous recreation of the era, with miniscule attention to Jewish folklore in the Old City of Jerusalem: the elaborate meals, the preparations for Sabbath, the segregation of men and women in synagogues, the lively marketplace, the exquisite wedding ceremonies, outdoors dancing and singing.

With 14 features to his credit, including the Oscar-winning Madame Rosa starring Simone Signoret, Mizrahi has devoted his entire career to a celebration of the still neglected Sephardic tradition. However, though Women is one of his more handsome and technically polished films, it still lacks the visual style to make it a truly enchanting fairy-tale. For Women to have been a transporting experience, it needed the kind of magical realism and lyrical imagery recently seen in the new Mexican and Iranian cinema.

Still, Mizrahi should be commended for going against the grain of current Israeli and European movies, and for reportedly waiting 25 years for his wife, distinguished actress Bat-Adam, to be the right age to play the older wife, which she does magnificently.

English subtitles are adequate, though picture sounds better in Hebrew, as a good portion of the clever dialogue is in verse.


A Movit Ltd. film production. Produced by Michael Sharfstein and Amitan Manelzon. Directed, written by Moshe Mizrahi, screenplay based on Yehuda Burla's story. Camera (color), Amnon Zalaier; editor, Tova Asher; music, Avihu Medina; sound, Eli Taragan, Israel David, Jean-Paul Loublier.

Running time: 98 min.


Rebecca…Michal Bat-Adam
Jacob………..Amos Lavi
Mazal……….Geula Nuni

With: Ilor Harpaz, Yossef Shiloah, Rivka Gur, Arie Elias, Levana Finkelstein, Shosha Goren, Shraga Harpaz, Orit Mizrahi.