The Women’s Balcony

Rated 3.0

Emil Ben-Shimon directs this thoughtful and barbed comedy-drama set in a distinctly unlucky but still devout Orthodox community in Jerusalem. The film opens on a bar mitzvah celebration, one that ends in tragedy when the women’s balcony collapses, sending the rabbi’s wife into a coma and the rabbi into a state of dementia. Absent a praying space and unable to question the “wisdom” of their rabbi, the weak males of the community become easy prey for a fundamentalist firebrand (Avraham Aviv Alush, giving an insidiously charismatic performance) who imposes new restrictions and inflicts new humiliations on the women in the synagogue. This is the sort of sprawling portrait of a tightknit community in flux that might have worked better as a 10- to 13-hour season of television, but what Ben-Shimon and screenwriter Shlomit Nehama crammed into this 96-minute feature is still an astute and often quite funny piece of filmmaking. D.B.