Perhaps that great American poet Jim Jarmusch put it best when he said: “Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with [a] raincoat on.” No matter the effort, subtle cultural nuances are inevitably lost during translation. These go beyond mere linguistic errors: we lose entire contexts for themes, symbols, and character motivations. Naturally every culture has the right to make art explicitly for themselves; not every piece of art has to be 100% accessible for everybody. But it does make one long for a richer understanding of an artwork’s cultural background, especially when said artwork is a film interested less in action than in complicated character development. Such was my experience with Rama Burshtein’s The Wedding Plan, an Israeli romantic-dramedy about a thirtysomething Jewish woman named Michal (Noa Kooler) who gets dumped by her fiancé a month before their wedding. But instead of calling the wedding off, the devout Michal calls God’s bluff and keeps the wedding date, insisting that she will find a new groom in time.
In my screening of the film, there were a surprising number of tears and sniffling amongst the audience of jaded New York City critics. When the lights came up, I identified many of these critics as Jewish, either by their kippahs or their noisy insistence that the film worked better in its original Hebrew. “Those subtitles were terrible! They mistranslated so much,” one critic practically bellowed as he left the auditorium. Going down the stairs to the street I had a brief talk with another Jewish critic who explained that the film was rich with cultural details that non-Jews would miss. When asked for an example, he explained how a song played during the last shot was actually a traditional Passover Seder song celebrating valorous women that looped around and re-contextualized the dialogue in the opening scene where Michal discusses her wedding plans with a planner. In my cultural ignorance, I had completely missed the film’s climactic thematic coup.
So what kind of a review can I give for a film I intuitively couldn’t fully understand? I could start by mentioning that though the film is only 110 minutes, it feels an hour longer. I could continue by countering the film’s marketing claims that it’s a comedy by pointing out that the few comedic bits are deliberately spread thin. I might point out that the blind dates, though the highlights of the film, are almost out-of-place in their extreme absurdity when compared with the rest of the film’s breezy, insouciant naturalism. And I could conclude by saying that, from a religious standpoint, it’s one of the most inherently Jewish films I’ve ever seen—at times it’s practically a polemic about the costs, expectations, and rewards of Jewish faithfulness. The film may follow a woman seeking a husband, but in truth it’s about a woman seeking God.
Without proper knowledge of Jewish culture and religion, I suspect many viewers will find The Wedding Plan slow, ponderous, and even preachy. But for those in the know, I can attest that they will find it powerful, moving, and deeply rewarding.