Israel/France/Italy 1999

Reviewed by Simon Louvish


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Jerusalem, the present. Meir, a religious Jew, and Rivka live in an ultra-orthodox quarter of the city where the strict laws of the Torah hold sway. They have been married for 10 years and still love one another. They are also childless and Meir is under pressure from his rabbi to divorce his wife, which Jewish law permits if, after 10 years, she hasn't given birth to any children. Meanwhile Rivka's unmarried sister, Malka, is being matched with one of Meir's colleagues, Yossef, a fanatic who calls on secular Jews to "return" to religion.

Despite being in love with a young man, Yaakov, Malka accepts the arranged marriage. Meir argues with the rabbi about his edict on Rivka, but the rabbi insists, telling him that only child-bearing women can help the community defeat the threat of secularism. Meir agrees to divorce Rivka and marry a new wife, Haya. Meanwhile Rivka visits a gynaecologist who tells her she is fertile and the problem must lie with her husband. Malka marries Yossef; the wedding night is a bleak and brutal encounter. Rivka moves out of Meir's house to live on her own. Meir visits her in a drunken state, but he still knows he will marry Haya. Malka has a tryst with Yaakov in a local bar. When she returns to Yossef, her husband beats her. She leaves him. Rivka visits Meir for a last night together, but when he wakes in the morning she is lifeless and he weeps over her body.


Israeli film-maker Amos Gitai has gained a reputation internationally as Israel's foremost director, not least because of the stubborn way in which he has managed to make film after film, year on year, both fiction and documentaries, where other Israeli film-makers have struggled over protracted periods to complete just one movie. Having cut his teeth on radical documentaries about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and other global subjects, he embarked, from a French base, on a series of fiction films, such as Esther and Berlin-Jerusalem, applauded by some for their distinctive approach to narrative, criticised as overly didactic by others. Having returned to Israel in 1993, Gitai hasn't slackened his productivity, but he has adopted a more traditional, character-based style of narrative. The best of this batch so far has been his 1998 film Yom Yom (Day after Day) portraying his native city of Haifa through a tale of an Arab-Jewish mixed marriage. Focusing on the marriages of two ultra-orthodox couples (one loving but childless; the other miserable and occasionally violent) Kadosh is an attempt to portray another city, Jerusalem, as a microcosm of the Israeli secular-religious divide.

The problem Gitai faces with Kadosh is his application of modern secular standards to a community that lives by a Biblical code last revised by Talmudic scholars almost 1000 years ago. A minority within a minority, who mostly shun the Israeli state, the ultra-zealous Jews who live in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim quarter adhere to a strict interpretation of the Torah, one that's increasingly challenged not only by the surrounding secular society but by other observant religious communities. The film, featuring some fine and poignant acting, presents a forceful argument with which few secular viewers would disagree. These men treat 'their' women abominably, maintaining their power by enforcing rules that view females as chattels, little more than baby factories. But this itself raises the question of why thousands of women would choose to remain in such communities and accept their strictures in the first place, an arguably more intriguing conundrum, but one which Gitai's film never really addresses.

The point, which comes across only partially in the film, is that to all these people, men and women, the burden of the commandments (ol mitsvot) is exactly that - a burden, explicable only by the layers of tradition that present the strictest adherents as the purest guardians of God's will. Everyone suffers a life of self-denial and hardship (except those who abuse their power in the community for financial gain, a vital sore completely ignored here), leavened only by the bursts of intense joy which accompany religious festivals. But even these moments are downplayed in Kadosh; everything is reduced to Gitai's critique of the cheerlessly repressive nature of this fanatically religious existence.

The greatest irony is that Gitai relies on a secular methodology - dramatic narrative - in his portrait of a community that recognises only one narrative, the Torah, discussed and reviewed endlessly by the film's characters. The ultra-orthodox Jews whose lives Gitai attempts to depict will never see his film, as they shun the visual culture of cinema and television. Our own disapproval of their way of life may be strengthened, but it isn't elucidated; an opportunity to see the world through their eyes has been missed.


Amos Gitai
Michel Propper
Amos Gitai
Eliette Abecassis
Amos Gitai
Director of Photography
Renato Berta
Monica Coleman
Kobi Netanel
Production Designer
Miguel Markin
Louis Sclavis
Production Companies
Michel Propper/
Amos Gitai present a co-production of
Agav Hafakot/M.P. Productions/Le Studio Canal+ in association with Canal+/Mikado Film/RAI/Telad/Procirep
Laurent Truchot
Production/Line Producer
Shuki Friedman
Associate Producers
Roberto Cicutto
Laurent Thiry
Production Co-ordinator
Keren Vaza
Production Manager
Saul Kleiman
Location Manager
Spartak Khamis Mer
Assistant Director
Shai Gani
Gadi Nemet
Perry Cafri
Aviv Giladi
Levia Hon
Rodika Elkalay
Screenplay Collaboration
Jacky Cukier
Graphic Design
Shiri Mann
Ibi Cohen
Costume Designer
Laura Dinulesco
Make-up/Hair Artist
Ziv Katanov
"Mariage" from "Clarinettes" - Louis Sclavis; "Silence" from "Once Upon a Time in the South" - Dino Saluzzi; "Mozambique" from "Blow Up" -
Richard Galliano, Michel Portal; "Leolam vaed" song by Yaakov - David Shperling, Amnon Fisher, Eran Levi, Yaron Ben Alexander, Pini Fridman
Sound Design
Alex Claude
Sound Engineer
Michel Kharat
Sound Mixer
Cyril Holtz
Sound Editors
Gil Toren
Erez Byni
Elran Dekel
Ofer Ziv
Foley Artist
David Ozehov
Artistic Adviser
Ilan Moscovitch
Yael Abecassis
Yoram Hattab
Meital Barda
Uri Klauzner
Yussef Abu Warda
Rav Shimon
Lea Koenig
Sami Hori
Rivka Michaeli
Samuel Calderon
Uncle Shmouel
David Cohen
Orian Zacay
Adi Aisenman
Keren Vaza
Oren Eliyahu
Amos Gitai
man in bar
Downtown Pictures
10,488 feet
116 minutes 33 seconds
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011