by Travis Mackenzie Hoover
TREMBLING BEFORE G-D (2001)
directed by Sandi Simcha Dubowski
One doesn't normally expect a film about religion and homosexuality to come down affirming both, but that's exactly what's happened in this elegant and powerful documentary about gays and Orthodox Judaism. Trembling Before G-d shows how, against tremendous resistance and incomprehension by the religious community, gay Jews insist on staying with God and try all manner of counter-measures to make their families and community understand their plight. One man confronts the rabbi who sent him into aversion therapy years ago, demanding a better answer; two women serve as a support centre for Hasidic lesbians; and many fight an uphill battle in re-connecting with the families that rejected them.
Their feelings find eloquent articulation in the film's style. Director Sandi Simcha Dubowski takes big risks in aestheticizing the documentary, choosing to use meticulously framed linking shots and silhouetted figures that could easily have trivialized the painful emotions. But Trembling Before G-d's stately, mournful look concentrates their emotions, bringing out the tension that exists in their relationship to Orthodox Judaism. In the end, Dubowski winds up intensifying their struggle, revealing the awesome power of their faith and, in a final scene, the solace that, against all odds, they still find in a religion that would seem to have no room for them.
IN THE MIRROR OF MAYA DEREN
Im Spiegel der Maya Deren
directed by Martina Kudlacek
While I can't admit to any special knowledge about its subject, I can say that In the Mirror of Maya Deren whets the appetite for what looks like a fantastic oeuvre. Deren was one of the great names of the American avant-garde cinema, laying the groundwork for the explosion of the '60s and dealing with trance and mysticism long before the beats and hippies seized upon them. Included in the journey of the artist is her famed fascination with Haitian voodoo, her collaborations with other artists, photographers and dancers, her heroic refusal to make Hollywood compromises, and her tragic early death in 1961. A judicious use of clips also makes you wonder why Meshes in the Afternoon is her only well-known work.
Deren's work is what director Martina Kudlacek is most concerned with, and as a consequence, her film is happily lean on gossip. While Deren was so singular and accomplished that it's hard to avoid a certain amount of awe, the film is neither hagiographic hero-worship nor sordid exposé--it's simply a monument to an important and overlooked artist. While this makes In the Mirror of Maya Deren a tad austere and restrained (the only really heartfelt reminiscence comes in Stan Brakhage's hyperbolic account of her voodoo powers), it's quite enough to make you want to see and know more about her achievement.