An American foreign film DVD? Arranged presents an America that is a different country not only for most Americans but also for the rest of the world used to Hollywood's best and worst. The premise of this independent small budget movie is two new New York City School marms, an Orthodox Jew and a Muslim form a friendship based, at first, on their classroom connection and common dread of the arranged marriage their families are planning.
This movie is not as serious as you may first think and it is also not one of those Nutrasweet movies of the week. There is subtle comedy in the teachers' first day at school. The parade of suitors Rochel must endure would in itself have made a great comedy. Rochel's first suitor makes Woody Allen look like James Bond on his most confident day. Unfortunately, fewer of Nasira's suitors are shown and you really get the feeling some good moments could have been had there.
Rachel's angst at all the pressure leads her to rebel a bit and explore the outside world. The young women's single status also leads them into some interesting and funny girl talk. There is also a surprise and very original plot development.
There are unfortunately sledgehammer didactic moments in Arranged such as the artificial construct of having the kids in Rochel and Nasira's classroom ask the usual Muslim vs Jews questions or the two women's meeting with the principal and her commenting on the teachers' conservative dress, the fact they will eventually get married and leave the school, or even offering them money to go get designer clothes. Can you smell lawsuit? Rochel's subsequent confrontation with the principal is beyond artificial.
These are especially glaring considering how smart and well made Arranged is overall. Zoe Lister Jones and Francis Benhamou are excellent as the two young single women. The writing is generally dead on to the point the characters themselves comment on how a particular scene could be a commercial for universal peace and understanding.
A little fine tuning would have made this a great cultural romantic comedy. The fact is gives an in into societies most of us are not familiar is enough to make this film interesting but its overall qualities make it worth watching, didactic moments and all.
All Film Movement DVDs come with a short film. Here it is The Raft by German director Jan Thuring. This is really good plasticine animation. Two castaways on a raft have to figure out what to do when only 1 fish lands on their raft. Animation and story wise it is superb and darkly funny. This has to be my favorite of all these shorts.