Set in an Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, “The Women’s Balcony” centers on the literal breakdown of a synagogue. Structural damage to the women’s seating section results in a social conflict — one that resonates well beyond its specific milieu.
After a balcony in a moderate synagogue collapses during a bar mitzvah, the congregation’s rabbi falls ill. While plans are being made to renovate the house of worship, his replacement, the younger, more conservative Rabbi David (Aviv Alush), comes in with ideas that divide the community along gender lines.
Rabbi David insists that married women cover their hair, a proposal that is largely met with resistance. After the women raise enough money to reconstruct the balcony, he further insists that the money be used for a new bible scroll instead of balcony repairs.
“The Women’s Balcony” immerses the viewer in a culture whose rules may seem unusual to outsiders. One example is the debate over whether it’s acceptable to employ a “Sabbath Gentile” (that is, a non-Jew who is allowed to use a flashlight when the power goes out).
In the face of this particular orthodoxy, husbands and wives sometimes find themselves at odds. But in society at large, whether secular or religious, such contentious climates are becoming an increasingly unfortunate reality.
The film itself seems divided. While director Emil Ben-Shimon and writer Shlomit Nehama appear to side with the more moderate camp, images of the neglected synagogue — including a broken window that was never repaired — suggest that, just as the structure has been left to decay, so have its traditions.
Although the film ultimately strikes a celebratory tone, the stark divisions it reveals offer an unsettling look at the state of public discourse. Despite that broader message, it may be hard for some outsiders to feel fully invested in the central conflict. In the end, the solution offered by “The Women’s Balcony” to end the rancor feels unearned.
Unrated. At area theaters. Contains nothing objectionable. In Hebrew with subtitles. 96 minutes.