Review of “The Secrets”

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The Secrets is proof again — after The Edge of Heaven and The

World Unseen
— that lesbian drama can be done beautifully and poignantly,

without dipping into melodrama or heavy cliché. Directed by Avi Nesher, the

film follows two young, orthodox Jewish women who fall in love with one another

as they go to seminary school in the sacred Israeli city of Safed.

Warning: Minor spoilers

The movie opens on Noemi

(Ania Bukstein), a deadly serious, bookish young woman dealing with the death

of her mother and her engagement to the joyless, condescending Michael (Guri

Alfi). Eager to escape her particular lot, she enrolls in seminary school in

Safed, where she meets Michel (Michal Shtamler), the classic bad girl/rebel

(complete with a smoking habit, Euro attitude and disdain for the "backwater

town").

The pair room with the

feisty Sheine (Talli Oren) and Sigi (Dana

Ivgy) — the comic relief — and clash right from the get-go, setting up the

strong, opposites-attract chemistry that builds steadily through the picture.

From left to right: Dana

Ivgy
, Ania Bukstein, Michal Shtamler and Talli Oren



Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Eyal

Landesman

Soon, Noemi and Michel

are tasked with bringing food to a sick woman who lives nearby. Anouk (Fanny

Ardant) has quite a reputation — she did a stint in prison after murdering her

ex-lover, and is now dying from a combination of cancer and heart disease.

Michel’s heart goes out to Anouk, who begs the girls to help her make peace

with God (or G-D, as it appears in the subtitles).

Fanny Ardant



Photo credit: Marie Dorigny

While Noemi hesitates at

first, she eventually pours her heart and soul into devising increasingly

elaborate Kabbalah-inspired rituals (called tikkuns) to give Anouk a sense of

peace. The girls bond with her and each other on the spiritual quest, leading

to a passionate romance. Everything is complicated by the repressive world they

live in, which requires some aspects of their relationship to remain secret.

For a long time, Noemi

and Michel’s relationship rides the line between friendship and something much

deeper, a theme the filmmakers were wise to examine under the context of

religious society. The women are naturally affectionate with one another partly

because of their culture and its constant gender segregation. Everyone else

sees them as "good friends," despite the fact that their relationship

becomes quite physical behind the scenes.

Bukstein (top) and Shtamler

Like many queer films,

this rigid societal pressure is a central source of tension within the film.

Noemi is constantly reminded that her place in the world is defined by her

gender, and even the men who respect her treat her as something of an anomaly —

other women are more "light-minded." More striking is Michel’s

trepidation about taking their relationship to a more visible level — something

that simply isn’t done.

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