Like Sandra Kogut’s “A Hungarian Passport,” Pearl Gluck’s “Divan” is a personal diary film that traces a woman’s quest for individual and cultural identity through her stubborn fixation on an object, in her case a couch. Both deeply committed and slyly ironic, “Divan” offers a testimonial to the devastation caused in Hungary by the Holocaust, a glimpse into the richness of Yiddish folklore, a passive-aggressive assault on the patriarchal fastness of Hasidic orthodoxy and a vast self-reflexive joke. Pic may stall in cable and religious-themed venues before finding a larger audience, drawn not so much to its religious setting but to its human ironies.
The couch Gluck pursues with such single-minded fervor promises a way back into the Hasidic community from which she has been excluded. Pic spends many minutes chatting with upholsterers refurbishing the family heirloom upon which generations of rabbis have slept, and images of reconstituting its fabric and frame metaphorically crisscross the film.
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On her expedition to reclaim her heritage, Gluck walks a fine line: She goes in search of a quasi-mystical heirloom knowing full well that Jewish orthodoxy frowns upon bestowing religious value on objects.
She gets herself invited on a Hasidic pilgrimage to Israel, forcing her father to act as buffer between the outraged community and his lapsed daughter who persists in filming them. Around the globe, she fences with relatives and matchmakers who consider it a divine calling to get her married and pregnant. Yet somehow, the father who vowed never to set foot in her apartment winds up helping to edit her movie.
Back in her New York apartment, a host of other ex-Hasidic men and women come to sit on her divan, patting and caressing it as they talk about their deep belief in Judaism, their pain at being cast out of their families and their faith and their attempts to find alternate ways to build a Jewish context. Some are in Yiddish theater, others in Klezmer music, while Gluck received a Fulbright to collect Yiddish folklore.
Tech credits stress improvisational feel of a trip full of detours.