LA PETITE JERUSALEM (Karin Albou). 97 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (May 19). For venues and times, see Movies, page 110. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Parisian suburb of Sarcelles is nicknamed La Petite Jérusalem because of its large community of Orthodox Jews, many immigrants from North Africa. Writer/director Karin Albou takes us into the intimate rooms of one family that's struggling with maintaining its faith amidst prejudice (the film's set in 2003, a time of increased anti-Semitism in France) and changing times.
Laura ( Fanny Valette ), a smart philosophy student, is currently obsessed with Kant's Critique Of Pure Reason, while her older sister Mathilde ( Elsa Zylberstein ), the mother of four, wonders how she can hold on to her distant husband. Although they might seem very different, both sisters live in their minds, not their bodies.
All of this changes when Laura falls for Djamel ( Hedi Tillette de Clermont-Tonnerre ), a young Algerian Muslim man, and Mathilde, realizing her husband is having an affair, gets sex advice from a "mikveh lady" at a Jewish bathhouse.
Albou lets the story unfold subtly, immersing us in the rituals of daily life, both secular and religious. The humour is unforced (there's a nice scene with Mathilde asking her superstitious widow mother about sex), and the emotion's never overwrought.
If there is a flaw, it's in the hazy evolving relationship between Laura and Djamel, which seems to take place in the dark locker room where the two work as night-time custodians.
Albou's tasteful film seems to be about discovering passion, but there's a strange lack of it here.