93Queen joins the long and expanding list of bad documentaries covering a fantastic subject. The focus is Rachel “Ruchie” Freier, a determined, brilliant, and righteous Hasidic woman in Borough Park, Brooklyn, actively reforming that community’s retrograde attitudes toward women. Her initial goal is to create an all-female volunteer EMT service. Ultra-orthodox women are so sheltered that it’s anathema to be in a state of undress with any man other than a husband, and, as such, many are hesitant to call the local all-male Hatzolah service. Ruchie’s obvious work-around won’t do anything to change a culture that forbids even an extramarital handshake (though does offer dispensation in times of medical crisis), but anything that keeps women from their duties in the kitchen or bedroom is, naturally, not kosher to the strictest rabbis.
Watching Ruchie rally her troops and overcome Hatzolah’s mafioso-like scare tactics is engaging, but the dramatic moments feel staged and are undercut with obvious late inserts. Ruchie is a firebrand (and a culture where four children is considered a “small family” is fascinating), but we’re left with many questions unanswered, including obvious ones like, “Who is funding this program, anyway?” 93Queen (which refers to the group’s city-designated radio signal) takes a sharp turn at the end to follow Ruchie’s campaign to become a civil court judge. Considering how the narrative presents her as local pariah, it’s quite the head-scratcher when she wins. So while her acceptance speech as the first Hasidic woman to hold any elected office might be moving, much of the movie still feels like a false alarm.
Directed by Paula Eiselt
Opens July 25, IFC Center
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