Spiritual Doc Kabbalah Me Isn’t Quite Transcendent


Steven Bram is a filmmaker on the cusp of 50, who has tried and failed to find fulfillment “from jumping out of an airplane to going to Grateful Dead shows.” Now he’s turned to kabbalah. Formerly an apathetic Jew and voracious eater of lobster, Bram wants to understand Jewish mysticism, and whether it might be meaningful for him. The result is the sweetly odd documentary Kabbalah Me.

Though its structure occasionally feels too heimish, as when Bram trots out photos of himself as a child, Bram’s film is most interesting when he visits with Hasidic relatives in Brooklyn, or interviews his wife, Miriam, who describes herself as “a practical person” and finds her husband’s new enthusiasm baffling. Uninterested in religious practice, Miriam pursues yoga and Buddhism while her husband heads to Israel. In a softer moment, she allows that “Steven and I often learn the same philosophies from different texts and different people.”

This democratic view of enlightenment makes the film welcoming and intriguing, though it’s hard to overlook the privilege that allows Bram his time for contemplation. But who hasn’t wanted to “overcome…this disconnect of the universe?” The visuals are less transcendent, the Israel footage especially dull and ill framed. Even the sacred city Safed is reduced to obligatory images of sandstone and palm trees — but the film’s first shots, filmed in NYC, where Bram lives, are luminous.

Thousands of Hasidic men holding hands dance joyfully, filling the screen with smears of black and white. Then, toward the documentary’s end, Bram walks by the East River at sunset, the Brooklyn Bridge searing through an egg yolk sky, and eternity feels very close.