NEW YORK – Much of the tension – and there is a lot of tension – in the stellar new film “Shiva Baby” comes from the older generation’s heavy expectations of the young female protagonist. So I would like to avoid any art-imitating-life, by the way, assuring writer-director Emma Seligman that I don’t really mean it when I say that the future of Jewish cinema rests on her shoulders.
And yet, this young woman, barely 24 years old during the production phase (the same age as Steven Spielberg during his first feature film – no pressure!) Can advance to the rest of her career, wherever she is. leads her, knowing that she has made one of the truly great “Jewish films”.
“Shiva Baby,” airing on platforms like iTunes and Amazon since April 2, is a “Jewish film” both on the surface and in its roots. For starters, most of the action takes place during a shiva – the quintessential mourning ritual when a Jew loses a relative, and which lasts for a week – with a display of smoked salmon and bagels laid out in front of a Greek choir. of kibitzing parents. We can sometimes hear a bissel (little bit) of Yiddish in a film, but the mamalochen springs from the mouth of the character in “Shiva Baby” with an unforced ease which strikes by its authenticity (When there is schmutz on the punim from someone [de la saleté sur son visage], why formulate it otherwise?).
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But it’s also a ‘Jewish film’ in how the genre’s most interesting new releases often are – with the lead character Danielle discovering how to orient herself in her own identity without causing a break with the community that holds her. surrounded. When Danielle’s anxiety crumbles from inside her brain and begins to express her chaos among the bereaved, her mother takes her aside, and cleans her with water from the ritual pitcher at the front of the house. . “God will forgive us; it’s too crazy in there, ”she says, and she’s probably right, as is usually the case with mothers.
A series of lies stand out, all of them exposing a greater truth. Danielle (brilliantly played by Rachel Sennott) is about to graduate from college and has absolutely no idea what she’s going to do with her life. It’s totally at odds with the way she presents herself, as someone who proudly gave up on pursuing law school to invent her own specialization in something that has to do with media and being a feminist. (it’s a bit vague). In addition, this is a young woman of today, who is free and in control of her sexuality, and is in a counterpart sexual relationship with an older man, one of the excuses being that he help with his law studies.
It’s not a romantic relationship, it’s not prostitution, it’s something else (and apparently it’s very common these days, thanks to the new apps), but it’s still a surprise when this man shows up at the shiva.
And it’s an even bigger surprise when she learns that he has a wife and a baby.
While these revelations shouldn’t bother her, she does, and it bothers her that her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) is also there, she making a sensible choice and studying in law school. Parents love law school.
Danielle’s mother (a hilarious Polly Draper) is aware of her past romantic relationship with Maya, but brushes aside her daughter’s bisexual identity as “just a phase.” It is not known what his father, Fred Melamed, knows. About everything and nothing.
It might sound complicated, but Seligman’s script strings it right, tightly fitting that combination of millennial angst with the cinematic conventions of a horror movie. At the end, the orange glow of the sunset in the not-quite-suburban house crowded with aunts carrying Corning ceramic dishes eager to enter the downstairs bathroom evokes the ashes. inflamed from a self-inflicted hell.
The first low budget films that are 77 minutes are usually the best indicators of what a director might do “on a real movie”. This is not the case with “Shiva Baby”. Sennott’s performance of playing Danielle, oscillating between deviance and a clear desire to “do good,” whatever that expression means to her, is surprisingly compassionate.
There are some effective jokes too, and not just the ones centered on how to pronounce rugelach or whether children look too happy in a photo outside of a Holocaust museum. I stress again, non-Jews will “get” this film; think about the films you saw about customs that are foreign to you… you finally figured out who was what.
As Danielle realizes that she isn’t as in control of anything in her life as she once thought she was, she experiences a range of emotions, culminating in a literal embrace of the stabilizing comfort of his Judaism. Her choices about what to do next seem clearer to her as she prepares to begin her adult life.