A Light for Greytowers: Movie Review

Yesterday I did three things that I almost never do: Drive to Jerusalem, take my teenage daughter alone on an outing, and watch a movie from beginning to end. But this was a special occasion–we went to see “A Light for Greytowers” produced by Robin Garbose.

The Israeli screenings received extra publicity because the actresses and singers are Orthodox Jewish women, who will not allow the film to be screened to mixed audiences. The Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival accepted the film on its artistic merit but later retracted the invitation, deciding that women-only screenings were discriminatory.

Garbose’s response appeared in Haaretz:

“Greytowers” is a genuine work of art from a community that has not until now had a cinematic voice; it represents the voice of religious Jewish women who choose to live their lives according to the Jewish laws of modesty and who, consequently, do not sing or dance in front of men. I had hoped to use the festival’s forum as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about these religious practices, as per the festival’s stated mission “to explore the many and varied issues surrounding the question of Jewish identity, history, culture and religious practice.”
Film festivals are touted as hotbeds of artistic idealism, where filmmakers are encouraged to push the envelope thematically, technically and philosophically. Is “pushing the envelope” only to be applauded when the film involves graphic promiscuity or profanity? Needless to say, I was profoundly disappointed by the festival’s inability to find a place for us within its purported framework of “diversity.”

At the screening, Garbose said that attorney Aviad Hacohen protested on Garbose’s behalf that the Festival’s decision was a form of religious discrimination. At any rate, the Jerusalem Festival only screens films making an Israeli debut there so there won’t be another chance.

It was a relief to watch a fast-moving film with professional looking settings and camera work. The last movie I saw that out of the religious community was slow, dull and self-important. From the first song, I was impressed with the level of production and musical arrangements in “Greytowers.” I especially enjoyed the singing performances of Esther Perel Marks and Bracha Goldschen(Proper Nutrition), Chanie Kravitz (Anya’s Lullaby Overture), and Barbara Heller (Life of the Wife of a Sea Captain).

The fictional story takes place in an orphanage in Victorian England run by a cruel matron (similar to “Oliver Twist”). When Miriam arrives after the death of her mother, she inspires the other girls through her Jewish values and courage, teaching them that, “Everything that happens is for the good.”At times the Jewish angle seems completely implausible, but it works in the end.

Clichéd and ungrammatical song lyrics detract from the wonderful music– phrases like “Remove the tears from on your eyes,” and “Don’t noisy be” grated. The film is set in Victorian England, and the accents were done well, but I wonder whether the American sweetness and pat ending would play well to a Hebrew-speaking audience.

My daughter loved it, and we bought the DVD soundtrack containing the label “For Women Only.”

I envy the Los Angeles Orthodox community its tremendous talent, and look forward to seeing the next film.