Israeli documaker and artist Anat Zuria is establishing herself as the scourge of sexist ultra-orthodoxy in her homeland, and her latest feature, “Sentenced to Marriage,” continues the unblinking look at religious persecution of women she used in “Purity.” Just as the last pic focused without comment at the demeaning treatment of menstruating women in Orthodox marriages, this new work lowers the boom on Israeli religious-based law that denies divorcing women basic rights. Feminist distrib Women Make Movies has a hot title for grassroots and group screenings, sure to spark post-viewing discussion.
Five years after her wedding, Tamara suffers a meager existence since she left her abusive husband, who added insult to injury by taking all her money. She’s the first of three women (all identified by first names only) trying to cajole their husbands and rabbinical authorities into accepting pleas for divorce, employing so-called “rabbinical pleader” Reut Giat as advocate.
Michelle, a mother of three, is faced with a husband who has left her, sired children by another woman and yet refuses to give her a divorce.
It would have been helpful had Zuria placed an explanatory graphic on Israel’s peculiar marriage laws at pic’s start rather than in the middle. Without knowing up front that rabbinical courts control all divorces, and that a husband has total say in approving a divorce regardless of his wife’s feelings, viewers are left to puzzle at seemingly bizarre early scenes.
Once this reality sinks in, and religious radio producer Rachel struggles mightily to get her day in court, most observers will be shocked at how Israel’s Draconian marriage laws outdo some Islamic theocracies for medieval thinking.
Zuria’s verite camera is highly sympathetic to the women (the men’s faces are blurred, and are depicted contemptuously), and finds some creatively dramatic ways to get around showing faces in the public court hallways, where emotions sometimes turn volcanic.
Video documenting restores “reality” to its proper meaning. Emotions are wisely not manipulated by Jonathan Bar-Giora’s subdued score.