La Petite Jrusalem

PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED Daughter Zylberstein, left, turns to maternal rock Tahar.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED Daughter Zylberstein, left, turns to maternal rock Tahar.

Time Out says

Set in the low-income, nondescript Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, this ponderous drama by first-time writer-director Karin Albou tracks the sexual awakening of gorgeous, French-Jewish Laura (Valette), a young philosophy student who lives with her devout sister, Mathilde (Zylberstein); Mathilde's husband, Ariel (Todeschini); and her mother (Sonia Tahar), an immigrant from Tunisia. Observing Jewish religious custom, but consumed by her late-night grapplings with Kant, Aristophanes and other cerebral Western thinkers, Laura—a woman for whom ideas are preferable to urges—is thrown for a loop when she falls for Djamel, an Algerian Muslim emigr. In a parallel subplot, Mathilde tries to satisfy Ariel's erotic needs without disobeying the Torah's marital edicts.

Opening with a sensual close-up of Laura's luxurious tresses and naked thigh before cutting to a riverbank where an Orthodox rite is underway, Albou defines her themes from the outset: the tension between flesh and reason, faith and secularism, law and personal freedom. With so much on its mind—a cross-cultural romance, female desire, the ugly politics of assimilation in contemporary France—it's disappointing that the film feels so remote and airy. This portrait of a young woman trying to chasten her body in order to bathe in the divine light of pure thought only threatens to be interesting, favoring turgid atmospherics and the grainy, dusky-hued cinematography of Laurent Brunet over plot or depth of character. La Petite Jrusalem, like Laura, has its head where its heart should be. (Opens Fri; Quad.) —Damon Smith



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