Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher sets his fledgling feminist film at a Jewish seminary in Safed, where students Noemi (Ania Bukstein) and Michel (Michal Shtamler) form an unlikely friendship. Humorless Noemi is the Tracy Flick of orthodox Jews whereas glamorous Michel—raised in France from the age of 12—smokes, flirts, and wears knee-high boots. But the former’s book-smarts and the latter’s chutzpah find common cause when the two are assigned to deliver food to Anouk (Fanny Ardant), a terminally ill woman previously convicted of murder: Soon, the girls are bonding and breaking tradition, secretly performing a series of kabbalistic tikkuns upon Anouk in a ritual cleansing before she dies. After a giggly sleepover takes a sapphic turn, an unexpectedly emboldened Noemi progresses further along the path of self-actualization. Her quest for liberation, seeded in the knowledge that her recently deceased mother suffered from depression due to Noemi’s oppressive, orthodox rabbi father, finds full flower as she continues her studies, refuses to marry, and sticks to her sexual guns. Although overlong by about 20 minutes, The Secrets mostly handles its subject matter with grace and charm; its heroine’s proud defiance even mitigates a questionably celebratory conclusion.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 26, 2008