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'Kabbalah Me': Film Review

KABBALAH ME Still - H 2014
First Run Features

The Bottom Line

First-time director fumbles a chance to explain a much-discussed topic.

Opens

Friday, August 22 (First Run Features)

Directors

Steven E. Bram, Judah Lazarus

Steven E. Bram takes a first-person trip into hidden corners of Jewish belief

A case of truth in advertising if nothing else, Steven E. Bram's Kabbalah Me is much less interested in explaining the beliefs and secrets of this mysterious Jewish practice than it is in its relevance to the eponymous "me": Bram himself. The picture's first-person focus makes it surprisingly uninformative and occasionally annoying; while commercial prospects are brightened by celebrity-fueled interest in the topic, word of mouth will be lukewarm and the market remains open for a more competent doc.

Bram, a secular Jew with little interest in religion, becomes curious about Kabbalah during a midlife crisis he says was triggered by 9/11. As a New Yorker with a large extended family, he has ready access to relatives with plenty of information to share. Soon he's dragging his skeptical wife and kids to celebrations at the home of some orthodox cousins, trying on the idea of becoming religious without really embracing it.

Undaunted when the first few scholars he meets explain that it's nonsensical to try to understand Kabbalah without having rigorously studied the Talmud, he soon finds more dilettante-friendly rabbis. He commits to weekly meetings in his office, becomes Skype buddies with devotees in Israel and starts to keep kosher despite his love of lobster. Half an hour into this earnest exploration, we've heard an awful lot of metaphors about hidden wisdom, but almost nothing precise about what Kabbalah adherents actually believe. At one point, Bram tries to explain things to a friend: "The whole point Kabbalah teaches you is, whatever comes your way, there's a reason for it." Well, that certainly sets this apart from every other religion in the history of humanity...

We do eventually hear a few nuggets of specificity — Kabbalists believe in reincarnation, for instance — but the focus remains on the chronology of Bram's pursuit of the epiphany he has been promised. Unfortunately, he's only a little better at telling that story than he is at explaining the tenets of a belief system.

 

Production company: The Orchard Productions

Directors: Steven E. Bram, Judah Lazarus

Screenwriters: Steven E. Bram, Judah Lazarus, Adam Zucker

Producers: Steven E. Bram

Editors: Neco Turkienicz, Adam Zucker

Music: Jamie Saft

 

No rating, 79 minutes