Orthodox Jew and Modest Muslim Make Unlikely Friends in Cross-Cultural Comedy
Zoe Lister Jones is Rochel, and Orthodox Jew and Francis Benhamou is Nasira, a modest Muslim. The two woman are first-year teachers at a public school in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Their students expect tension between the two teachers because of the deteriorating state of Israeli-Arab relations. Everyone is surprised when the two young professional women become good friends.
The two women learn that they actually have more in common than anyone expects. Both are virgins, dress relatively conservatively, and both are saving themselves for an arranged marriage with a man chosen by her parents. Rochel’s marriage is being arranged with help of a matchmaker, and Nasira is promised to a middle-aged friend of her father.
There is an amazing similarity in the situation of the two women. This allows them to share their worst fears with each other, even though neither is planning to rebel against their family’s wishes.
Marcia Jean Kurtz Jacoby, the school Principal, a non-practicing Jew and avowed feminist. She tries to intervene on behalf of both of her new staff. As she sees it, the growth of the two brilliant women will be adversely affected by their submission to the outdated customs dictated by their oppressive patriarchal faiths.
Rochel and Nasira’s relationship flourishes?over the course of the school year. They spend quality time together, carving out a spiritual oasis away from the materialistic concerns of modern society.
Arranged is directed by duo Diane Crespo and Stefan Schaefer. This film is a Pollyanna-ish throwback to more tolerant days. In those times, the differences between Muslims and Jews were religious, and not magnified by politics.
Arranged can be though of in the context of My Big Fat Muslim and Jewish Weddings!
This cross-cultural camaraderie appears to be too easy to have happened in real life.
But that is what movies are for. The directors can point towards the path of peace, reconciliation and utopia. It may be overoptimistic, but it makes a nice story.
Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 89 minutes
Studio: Film Movement Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Biographies of the directors and the actors, and a 10-minute short film from Germany entitled “The Raft.”