Should male infants be circumcised? As the expectant mother of a boy, Israel-born, New York-based helmer Danae Elon (“Another Road Home”) uses “Partly Private” as part of her quest to make “a big choice about his little penis.” Encompassing trips to Israel, the Palestinian territories, the U.K, Italy and Turkey, her humorous personal docu goes beyond the Jewish rite of the bris to provide interesting facts about the hows and whys of foreskin removal. Although less pithy than Oded Lotan’s similarly themed “The Quest for the Missing Piece,” this provocative pic should see extended fest play before segueing to broadcast.
In the 20th century, routine neonatal circumcision became standard medical practice in the U.S., and was considered more hygienic. Now, many physicians find no health advantages to the procedure. Indeed, some believe it has a detrimental effect on penile sensitivity, and therefore sexual enjoyment.
Elon’s partner, Philip Touitou, a French-Algerian Jew, favors circumcision more out of traditional sentiment than as a covenant of Judaism. As a practical matter, he feels it’s important that father and son have, er, equipment that looks the same. Ultimately persuaded to have a mohel perform a bris in their apartment, Elon draws the line at the Algerian custom of putting the discarded foreskin in the couscous.
Wondering what normally happens to circumcision “debris,” Elon visits a laboratory that harvests neonatal foreskins for scientific research in treating burn victims, and a clinic that makes anti-aging cosmetics with foreskin cells. She also interviews a mohel who collects his cuttings as heavenly proof of his good deeds.
Muslims, like Jews, traditionally practice circumcision, since uncircumcised males can’t make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Although most operations are performed shortly after birth, Elon gets some poignant footage from a visit to an Istanbul “circumcision palace” where, after a shot of Novocain, a group of preteens in fancy dress have their foreskins removed in front of their proud families via a “hot gun” technique.
Pic adds in Middle East politics when Elon goes in search of the site of the first biblical circumcision. The trip permits a look at how tools of the trade evolved from prehistoric flints to high-tech steel blades from an aptly named manufacturer, Dick.
Elon effectively presents both sides in the “to cut or not to cut” debate, including some graphic footage and descriptions. However, some viewers may wish she spent more screen time on interviewees such as Briton James Williams, the inventor of SenSlip, an artificial retractable foreskin developed to re-sensitize the glans, and less on her own family.
Pic was crisply shot on HD; fluid editing works in synch with Elon’s voiceover narration and jaunty score to underline comic moments.