Orthodox pic breaks taboo

'Ushpizin' goes into the world of ultra-Orthodox Jews

JERUSALEM — Ultra-Orthodox Jews (called Haredi) do not watch television, let alone go to the cinema — at least not openly.

Strict interpretation of the First Commandment — “Thou shall not make to yourself any graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or in the earth beneath … ” forbids it.

And the sometimes questionable secular content is deemed unsuitable.

This taboo has changed, however, with the first-ever pic featuring an all-Haredi cast — Gidi Dar’s “Ushpizin” — which recently preemed at the Jerusalem Film Fest.

Revolving around a newly ultra-Orthodox couple, comic pic stars Shuli Rand, a popular figure in Israeli cinema in the 1990s who abandoned the bigscreen after exchanging his secular life for one of ultra-Orthodoxy.

“He disappeared from the scene for eight years,” says Dar, who also produced alongside the late Rafi Bukaee.

Rand returned to acting after the head of his yeshiva told him it was his mission in life.

“Shuli wanted to show the ultra-Orthodox world from an internal point of view … this is 180 degrees from films like ‘Kadosh,’ ” says Dar, referring to Amos Gitai’s pic about female suppression within ultra-Orthodox society.

Rand plays a newly religious former gangster whose secular life comes back to haunt him when a parole-breaking pal shows up at his house on the eve of Jewish festival of Sukkoth.

Pic was shot on location in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem never before captured on camera, in adherence with strict religious laws. Shabbat, running from dusk on Friday to dusk on Saturday, had to be observed.

“If a production assistant so much as made a phone call related to the film on Shabbat, the contract stipulated Shuli could call the whole thing off,” Dar says.

Sexual segregation rules meant the only woman Rand could act opposite was his wife Michal.

“She had never acted before and was quite afraid,” says Dar. “I told her ‘If you believe in God, God will guide you.’ ”

The rest of the mainly amateur cast was drawn from ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods across the city.

At the preem, the black-hatted cast mingled with the Cinematheque’s traditionally secular crowd which gave the pic a 10-minute standing ovation.

“In the history of the Cinematheque, I’ve never seen anything like it,” says founder Lia Van Leer.

Film goes on release across Israel August 5 — with no screenings on Shabbat, of course.

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