A Wedding Without a Groom at Center of Israeli Filmmaker’s Sophomore Feature

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Ronny Merhavi, Noa Koler and Dafi Alferon in “The Wedding Plan” | Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Michal is getting married in 30 days, on the eighth night of Chanukah.

She just doesn’t know yet to whom.

When her fiancé unexpectedly dumps her with a cold, “I don’t love you,” as they’re tasting meals for their wedding, Michal, a 32-year-old Orthodox woman, decides she isn’t going to just give up and go back to single life. Instead, she keeps the date of her upcoming nuptials and intends to find her husband in time, believing that God will lead her to the right match.

Such a task might be more miraculous than Chanukah itself.

Her story plays out during Rama Burshtein’s second feature film, The Wedding Plan (Roadside Attractions), which opens at the Ritz East on May 19.

With the enlisted help of two matchmakers, Michal sets out on a series of dates hoping to find The One all the while reassuring Shimi, the owner of the banquet hall, that there will indeed be a wedding.

Michal, played brilliantly by Noa Koler with just the right amount of zest and contagious optimism to keep her character from seeming a little psychotic, meets a string of unceremonious suitors, from one man who refuses to look at her throughout their entire date to the one who tells her she has a “nutty energy” (he’s not wrong).

Along her journey to the chuppah, backed by the encouragement of her sister and best friend — and the horror of her mother — she meets pop star Yos (played with oozing charm by Oz Zehavi) with whom she has a deep discussion about faith and desire, and she remains true to her mission and to herself.

She asks her dates probing questions and doesn’t change any aspect of her personality to suit her potential match, proving she won’t just marry the next guy who comes around.

“The Wedding Plan” writer and director, Rama Burshtein | Lea Golda Holterman

Her honesty is one trait that stands out to writer and director Burshtein, whose first film, Fill the Void, was about an Orthodox woman pressured to marry the widow of her sister who died in childbirth. She credits Koler’s performance for bringing that aspect to light.

“I love Michal because she’s very, very genuine,” Burshtein said, “and it’s not that she’s always very, very genuine. I think this journey that she’s taking really takes her to that place where I feel like she’s marveling the truth. She’s just her, and she’s telling the truth and [in] doing that, she becomes very beautiful and vibrant and everyone likes her and wants to marry her in a way.”

Burshtein didn’t intend to go into filmmaking. In fact, it came about quite by accident.

When a friend was interviewing for a visual arts program in Jerusalem and asked Burshtein to accompany her, Burshtein wandered into the school’s film department while she waited.

As she walked in, someone asked her if she was looking for an application. She said, “OK.”

“I just applied. That’s how I started,” she laughed. “I loved movies, I love the cinema. I didn’t think at that point that

I would study it, but this is how it happened and this is what it was. And my whole life is like this. Maybe my talent is just go with things, just go with the flow.”

She was born in New York City and raised secularly in Israel.

After she graduated from film school, she became deeply religious. While she didn’t pursue filmmaking the way she envisioned in her 20s, when she was in her 40s, she made Fill the Void. It was revolutionary in part because, as a 2013 New York Times review said, the film “has been described as the first feature film directed by an Orthodox Israeli woman, and it is one of a small handful of modern movies that depict religious devotion from within.”

She’s made a name for herself by creating films that tell the stories of this community — with a knowing voice.

But like any filmmaker, she tells the stories that interest her, like love stories. And it may not be just coincidence her first two films are about weddings.

“It’s about love,” she said, “but in my world, love will probably end up in a wedding. But I like love stories. And I like stories that kind of seem impossible and then become possible.”

The idea for The Wedding Plan, which was called Through the Wall in its Israel release in 2016, came during Fill the Void.

“I was thinking then that my next project would be around despair and hope, and the movement between both, which is, in my religion, it’s considered the strongest movement — between despair and hope. It’s the hardest and the most difficult and the strongest movement,” she said. “I just knew I wanted to do something about that. In order to really check out despair and hope, you have to have a target, you have to be around a target.”

She hopes viewers see Michal’s story as one of believing in what seems impossible, pointing to the somewhat ambiguous conclusion.

“It doesn’t matter what happens at the end. It doesn’t matter who and what,” she said. “I think it’s along the way you find, even for one moment, that you see things and endless possibilities.”

Contact: mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740

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