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By Lisa Adamowicz Kless

I have at least two friends that I’d consider film aficionados, and some of the best and most compelling cinema that I’ve been introduced to has been through their suggestions.  Like many of us, I especially love work that challenges my thoughts or emotions in some way, or presents me with a viewpoint that I might not have considered before.  Call me a late bloomer, but I hadn’t really watched many foreign films until a year or so ago, when both friends started giving me more suggestions.  That was a slippery slope to start down though.  Now, spur-of-the-moment foreign film binges are one of my favorite things.  Give me a couple films and a free Friday or Saturday night, and I’m set. 

Sometime last year, I was at it again.  Among my selections for a weekend film night was 2007’s Arranged, from Film Movement.  This wasn’t a recommendation, but one I’d just happened to stumble upon while browsing at the video store.  The plot centers on two young teachers in a public school in Brooklyn.  Rochel, an Orthodox Jewish woman (played by Zoe Lister Jones), and her colleague Nasira, a Muslim (Francis Benhamou), face the challenges of being first-year teachers.  Their friendship really begins when a student asks a startling question about their religions during class.  As with many real-life friendships and, of course, movie plots, they soon discover that they have a lot in common, not only in the workplace but in their personal lives too.  Their bond is cemented when they find out that they’re both in the process of having marriages arranged for them.

I won’t go into too much detail because I don’t want to be a spoiler, but I can tell you what appealed to me most about this film.  First, and undoubtedly, the characters of Rochel and Nasira.  Both are young women in the midst of a balancing act.  They’re staying true to their respective religions and cultural traditions, but still pushing for some self-determination, wanting marriages that are on their own terms, as much as possible.  The film was filled with great lines from both characters.  It was interesting to see that juxtaposition of how they’re embracing tradition, yet are still modern in many ways, with sharp wits and a sense of independence.  Not being very familiar with either Islam or Orthodox Judaism, I’m not sure how accurately the religious practices and cultures were represented, but if (hopefully) the filmmakers did their research, that was one of the aspects I enjoyed too.  It allowed me a glimpse into religions and cultures that otherwise, I knew very little about.

Don’t get me wrong: for the most part, this is a really upbeat film.  Most of the heavier issues are treated with a dose of humor, and the loose ends are tied up into a happy ending.  That said though, it still did for me all of the things that I want a film to do.  There was feeling, it made me think, and by the end, I felt like I’d been enlightened in some way.  Some big name video stores carry it, and it’s also on Netflix.  Pick it up or add it to your queue, and settle in for a light-hearted, but thoroughly entertaining, film.