As she accomplished in her stunning debut film Fill the Void, Rama Burshtein’s The Wedding Plan takes the viewer into the marriage practices of a hermetic society, offering an intimate, if fictional view, of how matches are made in Israel’s Haredi community. Yes there are matchmakers at work in The Wedding Plan, but its comedic conceit is that the optimistic, intuitive, and outrageous protagonist, Michal (Noa Koler) attempts to make the match herself, giving herself three weeks till the last day of Chanukah to find her groom.
Who should marry whom is an appealing subject for any culture—witness the popularity of all things Jane Austen. The American born writer/director turned deeply religious presents this world without irony, or any filter by which to judge it. I caught up with Rama Burshtein at Locande Verde in the tumult of an Israeli delegation of filmmakers celebrating Israel’s vibrant film industry, part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
What did you want to say in the story of your character Michal’s unusual wedding plan?
If the only way for you to feel love is to get married, this creates anxiety in young women. I think the worst thing today is despair: we need to believe in the good. This film shows what it means to be a believer. Michal is not sure of herself. She is struggling to believe. This is not about squeezing God’s hand and saying you give me—that’s very childish-- It is not up to us. This is a very delicate thing: the secret of the believer is, believing in what can be.
Several men in the film could have been the right one. So Michal’s journey is to date several men. How does this suspenseful structure represent your worldview?
Part of the experience of the film is that viewers are at the edge of their seats. Each guy has something that you feel, if they can be together, it will work; it will be redemption. When you are open to the good, everyone can be a potential husband.
How do you respond to feminists who have rejected your films?
Sometimes I get a reporter who is shaking with anger at me. When you are open to complications of emotion, then feminism, chauvinism and other big words fall apart. There are no villains when you are able to hold all kinds of emotions all at once. For me, it is more important to be feminine than feminist.
Your characters go to rabbis, to male authority figures, for advice. What is the role of rabbis in your life?
When I go to a rabbi, I understand my power, not his power. I came from a very liberal home, didn’t ask for my father’s permission. I left home when I was 16. I learned the tough way. I thought, would I ever be able to have a friend who loves me enough to tell me the truth? The first time I sat with a rabbi, I totally broke down and cried. He gave me the feeling that nothing exists but me. I am a streetwise girl, a liar and a thief. You cannot fool me or pretend that you are with me when you are not. He was so with me. He made me cry because this was a dry area in my heart. It was like going to a wise man, to the Dalai Lama. He sees a wider picture and you let him play that role in your life. He makes me feel smaller and that makes me feel beautiful. I wish people would make me feel smaller and protected. It’s not about feminism. It is about humanity and emotions and confusion and having someone to talk to.
Is filmmaking an accepted role for women in your religious community or is it expected for women to be chained to the kitchen?
I’m not so sure being chained to the kitchen is less than being a filmmaker. Making films is a vacation compared to everything you do, raising kids, being a good wife. Making films and being honored for them gives you strength. My being center stage: I am not shy, but at the end of the day, I like myself less. I never expected the international acclaim. I wish I could be more feminine.
What was the hardest part of making this film?
The hardest part was that my son got engaged while I was shooting the film, so I had two simchas to prepare.