IN SATMAR CUSTODY
Written and directed by Nitzan Gilady
April 6 through 12, Two Boots Pioneer
These days, on the sidewalks of leafy enclaves in upstate New York, bearded men sporting black hats and long, curling side locks pass women with covered heads pushing old-fashioned prams. The scene, straight from some shtetl described by Isaac Bashevis Singer, conceals a contemporary tragedy of ancient Greek proportions in director Nitzan Gilady’s chilling and thoroughly engrossing documentary In Satmar Custody.
Gilady, a secular Israeli of Yemeni origin, disguised himself as a Hasidic Jew to film a fervently anti-Zionist, ultra-orthodox Satmar sect, who recruit new members among Yemen’s impoverished Jewish community. A young Yemeni couple, Yahia and Lauza Jaradi, heeds the call, with disastrous results. Stranded upstate, fed gefilte fish, taught only Yiddish and Torah, the Yemenis find themselves culturally adrift. One day, an accident lands the Jaradis’ youngest daughter in the hospital; after allegations of abuse, all five of their children are removed and placed with Satmar families.
Gilady builds the tension as in a noir thriller, with haunting music, lots of night scenes, and men in dark coats shot from low angles and car windows. Yahia wanders about, seeking clues to his life’s unraveling, as the community’s crude manipulations become increasingly clear. Lauza, the bereft mother, remains a mystery worthy of Dostoyevsky or Flaubert. Gilady’s film would like to absolve her (and to a large extent it does), but it leaves behind a perhaps more disturbing question: What is left of a person whose points of reference have all been taken away?
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
Written and directed by Yvan Attal
Kino, opens April 8, Paris Theatre
If there is any doubt as to whether French cinema is in a state of free fall, Yvan Attal’s Happily Ever After should put such uncertainties to rest. This would-be comedy about a thirtysomething family man (Attal) and his foray into infidelity is probably the worst in the putrid bushel of recent Gallic imports. Whiny and petulant, Attal’s bourgeois schmuck sure has a lot to complain about: a svelte wife (real-life spouse Charlotte Gainsbourg) who graciously tolerates his kvetching, an exceedingly well-behaved tot, and a job as a luxury-car salesman that apparently permits ample time off. Adultery tempts both husband and wife—he acts on it, she doesn’t—and the resulting rounds of shrill soul-searching quickly crescendo to an earsplitting cacophony. As an actor, Attal is comically tone-deaf, flailing about like an attention-starved baby. As a director, he’s a hack for whom subtlety is anathema. (A third-act reconciliation cues “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”) Always a fascinating screen presence, Gainsbourg has more to do than in Attal’s previous solipsism-fest My Wife Is An Actress, but she’s again stuck playing the marble goddess opposite her hubby’s schlub. The more Attal insists on his inferiority, the greater his narcissism grows. Happily Ever After is almost worth sitting through for cameos by Anouk Aimée and Johnny Depp—two consummate actors whose near wordless scenes are like oases of calm amid the self-important chatter. DAVID NG
Written and directed by Q. Allan Brocka
Arztical, opens April 8, Quad
Way back when, friends, Jim Verraros used to be as much of a household name as Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, and in certain circles (maybe just mine) Ryan Starr. Now American Idol 2002’s favorite gay top-tenner has a hand in the best straight-plays-gay, straight-goes-gay flick since Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Because straight Gwen (Emily Stiles) only has eyes for queer-like (but not actually queer) guys, real gay Kyle (Verraros) convinces his straight roommate Caleb (Scott Lunsford) to pretend he’s gay so straight Caleb can score straight Gwen. Thing is, straight Caleb’s so good at being gay Caleb that straight Gwen, thinking Caleb’s actually gay and ipso facto not interested in her, passes on straight/gay Caleb and sets him up with her real gay roommate Marc, who—wait for it—straight/gay Caleb’s own real gay roommate Kyle has a real gay crush on. Confusing for sure, but not every filmmaker can be the next American Idol. NICK SYLVESTER