Feminist Film Month: Arranged (Film) Review

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I’m going to go light on the intro this week because I’m pretty sure this month’s theme speaks for itself. Yes, it’s Feminist Film Month up in this joint (also over at Jill’s). Men are allowed but they better shut the hell up, is all I’m saying.

Here we go.

*Beware spoilers, yo!*

Arranged (2007)

Directed: Diane Crespo, Stefan C. Schaefer
Stars: Zoe Lister-Jones, Francis Benhamou, Mimi Lieber

IMDB Synopsis:

ARRANGED centers on the friendship between an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman who meet as first-year teachers at a public school in Brooklyn. 

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Rochel (Lister-Jones) and Nasira (Benhamou) are both first year teachers at a school in Brooklyn. Although polite to one another and their peers, they don’t really start to communicate until a couple of kids call them up on their ‘opposing’ religions in class. Since Rochel is Jewish and Nasira is Muslim, the children wonder if the women hate each other.

This line of questioning prompts an exercise between the women and children called a ‘Unity Circle’, which is a success in showing the kids that friendship is a choice. Off the back of this exercise a friendship between Rochel and Nasira begins to blossom. And the theme of choice runs tidily throughout the film.

You see, our heroines are both in similar situations within their families, which basically means on the market for husbands, which they ain’t picking themselves, knowwhati’msayin’? (And hence the movie’s title). Or rather they do get final say, but from a list of potential suitors presented to them by their families – with mixed results.

As the women bond they start to share their ‘arrangement’ stories. Nasira is envious that Rochel at least gets to go on dates away from the family, while her own meetings are supervised closely by her firm but loving family.

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And cardigans are cool DAMMIT

Meanwhile, at school, Principal Jacoby (Marcia Jean Kurtz) shows her ignorance by pulling the two friends into her office and offering them money to go and buy designer clothes (which to be fair I would have taken out of principle). She cannot deal with the fact such pretty girls are holding on to their religious ideals in this day and age. I mean, I have my own views about religion too, lady but it’s none of our damn business.

This only makes the women stand their ground and they do push back, making it clear that they choose to dress the way they do and live the way they live. It’s an important point to be made, although they adhere to traditional values, both women choose to do so. This is something Nasira also touches upon nearer the beginning of the film when the new teachers are forced to go around in a circle and say a little bit about themselves. She is clear about it being her choice to wear the headscarf.

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“No offense but *ADD INSULTS HERE*…”

Sick of the disappointing dating pool, Rochel begins to upset her mother Sheli (Lieber), grandmother Elona (Doris Belack) and master-matchmaker Miriam (Peggy Gormley) with her negative attitude. Her dates are a mixed bag of misfits, all good Jewish boys on paper but somewhat lackluster in the flesh.

After an argument with her mother, Rochel goes to see her cousin Leah (Alysia Reiner) in the city to get a glimpse of life outside her faith. Leah talks to her about her own quality of life without religion and how open-minded it all is, but the threat of being isolated from the family seems to weigh on Rochel. She loves the fuckers after all. The cousins go to a party where Rochel gets a tiny taste of the life that might be out there for her, but after dancing with a hot hunk she freaks out and returns home.

Nasira is also having doubts about her path when her parents make her meet with a friend of the family, a bolshy man over 20 years older than her. EW. When she puts her foot down and refuses the match, her lovely father says he just wants her to have what he has with her mother. Despite this setback, Nasira finds herself crushing on the next match…

Rochel too enjoys a brief connection with an Orthodox Jew friend of Nasira’s brother. They share a sexy look in the library by chance but Nasira’s brother later refuses to hook them up. This forces Nasira to take matters into her own hands and is reminiscent of the things we used to do in school to get our friend’s crushes to notice them. I therefore loved it.

There is of course an ending and an outcome for both potential love interests but I can’t possibly spoil it for you here (but will probably do so below, in my summary). If you think this movie sounds like your cup of tea then I would suggest you find out for yourselves.

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Papa don’t preach (he doesn’t really, he seems a nice man)

My Thoughts

This is a sweet, gentle film with a nice ending. There’s no real conflict here, apart from a bit of discomfort when the friends visit each other’s homes. Which is fine but it just sort of trickles along and the conclusion is so neat that it’s slightly annoying. I mean, it’s nice that both women get what they want but when is life ever like that?

I would have been more satisfied if at least one of them had refused to marry so young and had gone off on their own path – or they had got together with each other. Still, this film is about choice and these women made their own and that’s the point. Right?

Both lead actresses are great but the characters themselves are so bland that they can’t possibly stick in the memory. There’s just no room for them next to Norma Desmond, The Foxy Merkins and the We Are The Best grrrls. Amirite, Jillian?!

This is a film that takes a gentler approach to feminist themes, the main one being that both women are free, they just choose to take a more traditional path. Which is what their families want for them, and what religion dictates.

It’s easy to be frustrated by this but many women do the same. Not all feminism is Doctor Martens and smashing the patriarchy, after all. Both young women are successful and intelligent with good careers in front of them, and neither of them are willing to settle.

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“Oh, am I wearing a head scarf? I hadn’t noticed.”

My Rating

3.5/5. Nice. As if nice isn’t the most boring thing to be labelled.

What does my partner-in-crime think? Why don’t you pop on over and see if she thought this one was a match or a crushing, creepy disappointment. ❤

5 thoughts on “Feminist Film Month: Arranged (Film) Review

  1. I agree–the characters themselves were just kind of there to support the message of this film about overcoming differences and respecting others’ choices. I really feel we could use more of that, and our leads raised some valid points about divorce stats. However, I think the part glossed over there was that many women in arranged marriages don’t come from a family that would even consider divorce as an option if the marriage were unhappy, and they wouldn’t take the same non-judgmental approach the filmmakers are asking for here.
    I couldn’t deal with being part of a conservative religious tradition, but I’m trying to take the approach white men in suits SHOULD take re: women’s health care decisions–if you don’t like it, don’t do it. Or, better put by you in this post, “Men are allowed but they better shut the hell up.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree with what you’re saying here, we do need to see more of this. Every and any kind of female choice being depicted in film, literature etc is important, regardless of whether it fits the ideal we have for it. Like, I’m all about the Riot Grrrl movement because it’s like a fantasy, the way I would love to act at all times, but I can’t and don’t because that just isn’t really me. I know I’ve gone off message but all forms should be represented, including ones that aren’t the easy or our natural choice. So for that reason this was a good film and an interesting perspective. xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know, right? She looked great. So much emphasis was placed on them by the people outside their families on their looks, it started to get annoying. Like if they’d been plain, nobody would have given a flying fuck what they did, let alone wore. SIGH. xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

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