Black Bus -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- The pain of ostracism is explored with only intermittent success in “Black Bus,” the final part of a documentary trilogy looking at issues facing women in today’s Israel. Like “Purity” (2002) and “Sentenced to Marriage” (2004), the digitally-shot “Black Bus” will find welcoming berths at festivals specializing in human-rights and/or Middle Eastern topics, with television exposure also likely. But that is about as far as this “Bus” will travel, as the ride overall represents something of a frustratingly missed opportunity.
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The film casts welcome light on the strict religious laws -- especially those concerning women -- which are becoming increasingly commonplace in Israel. Helmer Arat Yuta Zuria concentrates on two women whose independent natures have let to them becoming outcast from their families -- blogger Sara and photographer Shulamit, attractive and articulate individuals in their twenties who speak movingly about their sacrifices.

Sara’s blog in particular seems to have become an invaluable touchstone for those who disagree with the more hardline rabbis and their pronouncements. Among the latter is the introduction of segregated buses, with men at the front and women at the back. Some meekly accept this. (“If it’s crowded, then it isn’t modest,” remarks one female passerby) but for others it’s an affront to their human rights.

There are echoes here of the U.S. in the mid-’50s, when Rosa Parks so famously refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger. But such parallels left unspoken in a film which eschews narration and objective analysis -- neither orthodox rabbis nor government representatives are interviewed -- in favor of allowing its twin protagonists tell their stories, with only occasional third-party testimony from other dissatisfied citizens (their faces sometimes hidden to protect their identities).

There’s strong potential here, enough material for a powerful and topical polemic. But Zuria’s approach with “Black Bus” (Soreret) is for the most part drably conventional, relying on a strings-heavy score in a counterproductive bid to add atmosphere and underline the seriousness of the situation. Even the most inattentive viewer will quickly grasp the extent and causes of Shulamit’s plight, long before an over-protracted close-up of her tearful features as she reflects on the gravity of her situation.

Elsewhere there are too many repetitive scenes of her snapping away on the city streets (complete with hackneyed “shutter-click” sounds and monochrome freeze-frames), the “obsessive” photographer almost thrusting her camera into the faces of passers-by. The recipients of this attention are, unsurprisingly often distressed and offended by behavior that would surely be regarded as unacceptably rude in pretty much any culture worldwide, not just among the devoutly religious.

Production company: Anat Yuta Zuria, Jerusalem
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