The Wedding Plan (Burshtein, 2017): Israel

Viewed by Larry Gleeson at the Wilshire Screening Room in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Rama Burshtein’s second film, dubbed The Wedding Plan, a romantic comedy about a young woman with elaborate wedding plans with just a month to find a groom and a run time of 110 minutes, screened last Monday, as a pre-roll out for members of the press. Burshtein wrote and directed the film, a Roadside Attractions production and a nominee for Best Film at the 2016 Venice Film Festival. Burshtein’s first film Fill the Void centered around love and marriage as well with Burshtein picking up Ophir Awards (the Israeli version of the US Oscar) for Best Directing and Best Film for her first-time effort.

Actress Noa Koler portrays the film’s lead character, Michal. Despite being a relatively unknown film actress (The Wedding Plan is her first feature film), Kooler garnered the Ophir Award for Best Actress for her notable efforts. Koler delivers a resounding performance displaying a gamut of emotions as Michal, a 32 year-old, Orthodox Jewish woman who wants a husband to love and to experience the comforts and security of marriage. According to Burshtein, the only way to consummate love in this community is through marriage. Seemingly not too much to want in a tight-knit religious community until Michal is jilted by her fiance in the weeks leading up to the wedding day set for the 8th night of Hanukkah. In teachings of Kabbalah, the mystical side of Judaism, the 8th day of Hanukkah is representational of the world of faith and belief.

Not to be derailed in her devotion to marriage, Michal sends out the invitations, gets a beautiful wedding gown and books the hall for her wedding and reception in Bnei Brak, a known ultra-Orthodox center with a unique ambiance of a simpler time. While booking the hall, a noticeable energy is in the air as Michal commits herself to this marriage. She has a hall, a dress and has completed the needed arrangements for a wedding. The only aspect missing is her groom! Michal’s mother and sister are dumbfounded and stupefied as Michal continues with her wedding full steam ahead.

Most of the film is shot in Jerusalem with exterior shots of Tel Aviv, including Jaffa, an ancient port in the city’s southernmost area.

Over the next 22 days, Michal goes on a spiritual adventure of extraordinary faith. Unwavering in her destiny, Michal ventures out on disastrous “blind dates” to find and secure a suitable husband. Her tenacious intellect and her dogged determination to have a husband who is committed to loving her takes the viewer on an intellectually stimulating ride. As the day of the ceremony draws closer, Michal puts everything on the line to find her happiness.

Various characters are introduced including Israeli heart throb, Oz Zehavi, as the delightful and lighthearted Yoz, a handsome, sensational pop musical star. Interestingly, Michal crosses paths with Yoz in Uman, Ukraine in a pivotal sequence shot at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, an influential Hasidic spiritual leader. A phenomenon among believers is the ability to go through the wall of the tomb to the other side of faith and possibilities.

Michal is attempting to cement her desire to marry and to uncover her life’s pathway. She begs and pleads at the tomb’s wall posing life questions with strong passion. In response, a warm, tender male voice answers and Michal is unsure of herself and overcome with tender, heartfelt emotions until she comes to understand that the wall has a male side and a female side. The male on the other side turns out to be Yoz and he shows Michal how to be light and happy. But is he the one for Michal?

The Wedding Plan is scheduled to open May 12 in New York and May 19th in Los Angeles.

A strong, veteran supporting cast augments Koler’s performance in a most unequivocal manner. In addition to Oz Zehavi, Amos Taman, a successful television actor on a popular Israeli series, plays Shimi, the owner of the venue Michal has booked for her wedding and Irit Sheleg, a well known media persona, plays Michal’s mother. Most tellingly, a powerful, shoulder-mounted cinematography provided by Amit Yasur captures the energy and life force of Michal’s world and helps create the film’s suspense and emotionality. Moreover, the film’s mise-en-scene is anything but drab as various shades of yellows, reds, pinks and blues complement the more traditional colors of gray, black and brown normally associated with Orthodox Judaism.

The Wedding Plan is an exceptional film full of inspiration on the endless possibilities life has to offer. Along the way, more than a few life truths are revealed and numerous insights into the heart, faith and daily obstacles of an Orthodox Jewish woman seeking love and marriage are brought to light. Highly recommended.

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