Movie Review By Heather Clisby
Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, "A Price Above Rubies" is a worthwhile film about the suffocating pain of leading the wrong life. We first meet Sonia as a little girl, talking with her brother, Yossi. The loving boy gently admonishes her for placing human love above devotion to God, then runs off and drowns.
Played superbly by Renee Zellweger, grown-up Sonia finds herself following her parents plan and married to a Hasidic Jewish scholar. Mendel, played with naÔve sensitivity by Glenn Fitzgerald, is so devout and pious, he's repulsed when Sonia expresses passion in the bedroom - this is one chilly sex scene.
The couple has a baby son, which is just another iron door on Sonia's mental and emotional jail cell. At one point, she hides under the bed, covering her ears to escape the baby's cries; Sonia's world is closing in and only the occasional visit from Yossi's ghost reminds her of her true self.
For Sonia, even the positive changes come cloaked in ugliness. When her vile brother-in-law, Sender (played by Christopher Eccleston), notices her educated eye for gems and fine jewelry, he offers her a job as a buyer - it is the way out she's been looking for and he knows it. Before, she can even mumble acceptance, he quietly schtups her up against the wall. More bad sex! Just another example of her shut-up-and-take-it existence.
Nevertheless, the opportunity to utilize skills learned as a child in her father's jewelry store bring much-needed excitement and light into her dark, constrained life. Her personality awakens as she develops a friendship with Ramon, played by Allen Payne, a humble sculptor and jewelry designer. As they spent more time together, I found myself yelling at my tiny living room screen, "Save her, Ramon! Save her from perpetually lame and insulting sex!"
These were my piddly concerns but Sonia faced bigger problems. Her growing contempt for God and all His rules peaked during a marriage counseling session with a Rabbi who suggests - what else? - more prayer. Boy, was that the wrong piece of advice. As she rebels from her family and a faith that she has never felt, Sonia faces full pariah status with all the trimmings - no husband, no son, no parental support, no job, no money, and no home. Ground zero.
"A Price Above Rubies" certainly doesn't do much PR for the Jewish lifestyle. The men are selfish and the women are either vicious or victims. There certainly is beauty in Judaism but because Sonia finds no joy in it, neither will we. This is small film that dares to ask big questions - spiritual devotion versus self-fulfillment. Which is the true and just path? Thanks to the talents of Yakin and Zellweger, this is a laudable film worth your time.
© 1999 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 2/24/99
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