REDEMPTION (GEULA) (2018)
Starring Moshe Folkenflik, Emily Granin, Yonatan Galila, Sivan Shtivi, Shahar Even-Tzur, Avigayil Atara Koevary, Sendi Bar, Ruthy Borenshtein, Hadas Ben Aroya, Assaf Talmudi, Gadi Pogatch, Hagay Nachman Yekutiel, Rivka Sofer, Yael Benaya, Yam Shoshan, Nana Ron Elias, Ronny Raz Doitsch, Naomi Rosen-Chouraki, Hedva Romano and Adva Shoua Yeoshoua.
Screenplay by Yonatan Ben-Yaakov, Erez Kav-El & Yossi Madmoni.
Directed by Yossi Madmoni & Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov.
Distributed by Menemsha Films. 104 minutes. Not Rated.
Screened for the 2019 Israel Film Center Festival.
Redemption is certainly a unique variation on the old “let’s get the band back together” genre. A mournful look at the religious world vs. the secular world, a meditation on devoutness and life and death, it is charming at the same time as it is a little cold.
That description can be used for the lead character as well. Menachem, aka Menny (Moshe Folkenflik) used to be the lead singer of a moderately popular Israeli band (they released two albums and had a club following), until he found love and a newfound religious fervor. He gave up the dream of rock stardom for a more modest dream – he now works a price gun on the floor of a local retail store.
However, his new life has not been without hardships. As the film starts, his wife had died of cancer a couple of years ago, and now their six-year-old daughter Geula (Emily Granin) has leukemia. He can’t afford the chemotherapy from his day job, so he figures that his music may make him enough to pay for her treatments.
Of course, this isn’t one of those movies where the band hits the road and is immediately filling clubs, sheds and eventually arenas. No, like his life, Menny’s plan is more modest, he decides to get his band back to become a wedding band for Hassidic marriages.
However, even on this level, he has a bit of a crisis of faith – should he as a good religious Orthodox Jew be opening himself up to the temptations of music?
Of course, his bandmates are difficult to get to come along this little ride. They all have lives of their own now, and honestly if they do get back together, they want to do something a little more exciting than playing the chicken dance by the chuppah. They want the excitement of small clubs and drinking and women and recording. All the rock star trappings – all things which are now antithetical to Menny’s life. However, they agree to do the weddings as a favor for their friend, and to help fund Geula’s medical treatments.
In the meantime, Menny is starting to move on in his life, agreeing to allow the local matchmakers fix him up with local women, all the while ignoring the obvious fact that the younger woman in the building who has been babysitting for Geula seems to have feelings for him.
It’s an intriguing setup in a well-made film.
The only problem is with the main character. Menny is so cold, so detached from all around him, that it is hard for the audience to make a connection with him. I’ll even go so far as to say that with the hardships that have been thrown his way, Menny has every right to be so shut off. However, at best he comes off as aloof. At worst, unfeeling.
His friends and bandmates call him on it, and fairly regularly. They still have a passion for life, an ability to enjoy performing which Menny seems to have lost – or at least to have shut off for more spiritual pursuits. He obviously loves his daughter, and even his bandmates in a way, but he is so cut off that the audience can’t always feel it. Therefore, any good things that do come his way feel muted. In fact, many of those good things he actively avoids. I’m not going to lie, despite his tragic life, Menny is probably the least interesting character here.
However, Redemption is an intriguing film, a look at the balancing act of the devout and the profane. (Though honestly, in Redemption smoking cigarettes, talking about women and craving stardom is about as profane as it gets.) It’s an interesting look at religion and the massive changes which can happen in a man’s life. It shows us a way of life that does not get much time on the big screen.
I just wish the hero was a little more likable.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 4, 2019.