2007 - United States - 90 minutes
Directors - Diane Crespo and Stefan C. Schaefer
Writer - Stefan C. Schaefer from a story by Stefan C. Schaefer and Yuta Silverman
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
Arranged is a feel-good movie with a message. The story concerns two young women who are teachers in a Brooklyn, New York, elementary school. Nasira, the teacher of the fourth grade class is a woman from a traditional Muslim family. Rochel - from an Orthodox Jewish family - is the special needs aid from a legally blind boy in the class. The students raise the question as to whether the two hate each other because it is the understanding that all Jews hate and want to kill all Muslims and vice-versa. The two women become close friends while working together to dispel these prejudicial thoughts of the students.
Both of these young women are bright, caring people in touch with society, but they are both from traditional families that share the common tradition of arranged marriages. Thus, they are both suffering the crisis of being modern, vital women bound to a tradition of an ancient time. However, they are both respectful of the tradition and their families.
I must admit that watching this film was somewhat of an education for me. Personally, I pretty much disdain the practices of organized religions because history has witnessed so much harm committed in their names, but seeing these two young women work out their problems was very insightful. There is an interesting character in the film who pretty much expresses my thoughts - and probably the thoughts of many others not privy to the intimate feelings of those who observe the guidelines of traditional religions. The character is Principal Jacoby. She cannot understand why these two smart young women would harness themselves to traditions that are so far removed from modern society and liberated women. Unfortunately, Jacoby's thoughts are expressed in a less-than-cordial way - shocking but with a comic touch.
An ironic twist to this film for me comes from a recent conversation with my brother. He's not as avid a television drama watcher as myself and was saying to me recently that he hadn't watched much on television lately, but when he did, it seemed that it was usually some program from the Law and Order stable of shows. After I had watched Arranged, I happened across a Law and Order repeat in which the actress who played Rochel was featured. I had already recognized the actress who plays Principal Jacoby as a repeating character on the series, so I decided to do some research. Of the fourteen leading actors in Arranged, nine have appeared in some form of Law and Order, and some have played repeating characters. One of the major reasons that the Law and Order programs have been continuing successes is the quality of the acting. That quality extends to Arranged.
Principal Jacoby is played by Marcia Jean Kurtz whose most memorable Law and Order role was that of Carla Lowenstein - first played in 1990 and reprised in 2004. She played the emotionally abused wife of a noted doctor who abused and murdered his child. I cannot remember the names of the "ripped from the headlines" real doctor and wife, but Kurtz's performance was shocking and unforgettable. In Arranged, she shows her considerable range.
Rochel is played by Zoe Lister Jones who gives us a woman who is outwardly shy but in possession of keen insight and an independent spirit to be truly admired. She is a beautiful and highly competent actor.
Francis Benhamou (not a Law and Order alum) plays Nasira as a woman bound to tradition but with a spark and wit not to be dimmed by obstacles that arise. She is a delight to watch in this role.
The DVD is distributed by Film Movement (filmmovement.com). If you are interested in independent films, you might wish to check them out. I have not always enjoyed the selections of this group but one thing I can say is that all of their films are certainly interesting.
Many people feel is that you cannot take seriously a movie with a happy ending because life in general does not have a happy ending. I generally tend to agree that most lives do not have happy endings but there's nothing that says we cannot enjoy the thought. Arranged certainly gives you that enjoyment.
March 10, 2008