Monday, November 1, 2010

Movie Queue Monday: "Arranged"

"Arranged" is a very charming, sweet independent film about the unique friendship between Nasira (Francis Benhamou), a Muslim woman, and Rochel (Zoe Lister Jones), an Orthodox Jewish woman. Both live in New York, both take their faiths very seriously, and both are on the verge of marriages that are being "arranged" with the help of their families.

Nasira and Rochel initially meet in the public school where they both work. It is clear that their traditional beliefs make them both "outsiders" among their co-workers. Neither of them date or party like their more secular female counterparts, and their modest clothing not only sets them apart from the others, but even evokes some barely veiled contempt from their more modern-minded supervisor. "Look, the two of you are some of my smartest teachers," she tells them one day as she pulls them aside. "You are successful participants in the modern world except for this religious thing. I mean the rules, the regulation, the way you dress... There was a womens' movement, you know? I went through it." She then proceeds to pull out her wallet to offer them money to find some "designer clothes".

In addition to finding themselves both being painted as the two "religious nuts", the two women find they have  a lot more in common than they may have initially thought, including stress from potential future marriages. It's not the pressure that you might think—their fathers are not forcing them into unappealing, loveless marriages. Rochel feels stressed because the matchmaker her family is working with has produced only some very unpromising prospects. Nasira is not encouraged by the first match her father brings home as a possibility. As they support each other through the often comedic ups and downs of the marriage process, it becomes clear that the central message of the film is not "friendship has no religion" as the subtitle would indicate. What I took away as the message was the unifying power that faith, even different faith in different religions, can have.

Many times atheists  harp on how much better a world we would have if people gave up religion, as if that was the only source of conflict in the world. I would argue that having faith and being accountable to it gives you more in common with believers of other religions, thus forming a good foundation for peace. As a Christian,  for example, I enjoyed this film because I could relate on many levels to Nasira and Rochel's struggles to stay true to their traditions in the midst of modern, secular society.

This point of the film reminds me of a story my brother told me. My brother is a part of a Catholic religious order called the Dominicans. He wears a habit, lives in community with his religious brothers, and has vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. One time they were visited by Buddhist monks from Tibet who came and stayed with them. Although there are obvious differences in their faith traditions, the Catholic brothers and Buddhist monks had a lot in common and respected each others discipline and lifestyle.

So if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist for that matter, see "Arranged" and prepare to be delighted and inspired. Five stars.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this movie a couple of months ago- I loved it!!!! I so wished that I could meet the main characters; they seemed like people I would be friends with\. I was worried that this movie would be about two girls "freeing" themselves from their restrictive religious lifestyles to pursue the modern idea of "true love"- thankfully I was wrong! What a great film.

    Also, I read your review of The Jeweler's Shop, but I'm too lazy to post a separate comment. Thank you for warning me. The play is one of my most favorite things to read in the universe, and it would be depressing to watch a poor adaptation of it.