Through the Wall
“I have a hall. I have a dress. The apartment is almost ready. It’s a small task for God to find me a groom by the end of Hanukkah”
So says Michal, the kooky heroine of writer/director Rama Burshtein’s Through the Wall (alternatively known as Laavor Et Hakir in its native Israel, and The Wedding Plan in other territories) an orthodox romcom about one young woman’s determination to find the love of her life.
With a month to go before her wedding, thirty-two year old mobile petting zoo owner Michal suddenly finds herself deserted by her fiancé, following a dramatic case of extremely cold feet and the sobering realisation that he does not really love her.
Despite her abiding Hasidic faith, Michal initially feels utterly lost by this unexpected turn of events. Coming slowly to, she realises she is fed up with the traditional matchmaking route that has so far consistently let her down, and instead settles on a bold course of action to finally ensure the start of her proper adult life and the happy ever after she has always dreamt of: she sets herself – and God – a deadline; to find herself the love of her life for the date her wedding has been set at.
Burshtein’s somewhat energetic but often bittersweet comedy has a hint of the traditional romcom nature at its heart, as we witness Michal’s dinner dates with a series of mostly impossible suitors, and her unappealing yet eccentric mobile petting zoo business – a detail that seems to owe a debt to the unconventional female leads of the Hollywood indies of this genre – but is in the adherence to her faith, and her refusal to explore or question its societal values, where the path ultimately diverges. From a Western point of view, the film’s overall message that marriage and a spouse is required in order to complete any woman, bring them happiness, and save them from social seclusion is perhaps one that is hard to swallow, so its kudos to award winning newcomer Noa Koller who delivers a strong, sympathetic and charming performance that connects with all audiences, despite the cultural and religious differences.
Religion figures predominantly in one key scene that sees Michal visit Ukraine on a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. There, she breaks down upon the tomb, begging God for a sign that what she is doing is right. Through the wall that divides men and women, a voice offers comfort and, outside, it is revealed to belong to none other than the handsome and enigmatic Yoss (Oz Zehavi), an Israeli singing sensation, who is then set up in the audience’s mind as the groom Michal may be searching for. But that’s only the very literal meaning of the film’s title; ‘the wall’ is a metaphor that Michal must break ‘through’ to achieve her dreams. But first she must believe in herself and her God.
With moments of real humour and an extra, thought provoking depth that you don’t find in your average romcom, Through the Wall is by no means a misfire, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was left wanting more by the close of the film. I’d have liked to have seen more of Michal’s friends and the female solidarity that is occasionally hinted at between them, despite their belief in matrimony. I’d also really liked to have known what the deal was with Michal’s disabled friend (played by Sivan Mast and listed as just that – and that alone – in the end credits, ‘Disabled friend’) Why does she have just a couple of brief appearances? And was Burshstein really trying to draw a parallel between this seemingly lonely, tragic figure in the wheelchair, somewhat outcast (she’s not even attending the wedding – Michal visits her en route to show her the wedding dress) and the potential fate Michal may have if she remains single? I shudder to think, and I really hope not – you’d think we’d be over this kind of thing in 2017.