I have seen a few Ewing-Grady documentaries so far and I have always found they tackle fascinating subjects but I have never loved the way in which they tackle them. Though I appreciate their attempts at breaking outside of documentary norms and customs (to a degree) I also sometimes find their attempts to do so a little too flashy, for lack of a better word. (What I am trying to say is that I find that their style often calls attention to itself, which is not always something I like in documentaries.) One of Us definitely contains stylistic flashes that call attention to the style rather than the subject, and I didn’t like that aspect, but otherwise this is the best movie they have made to date (that I have seen) and a must-see film for anyone interested in religion, religious issues, cults, women’s rights, cultural legacies or any number of other related issues and topics.
One of Us is about three Hasidic or formerly Hasidic jews in various stages of attempting to leave the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, New York. One of these people has left, one of these people is trying to leave and the third is thinking about leaving. As many of these films do, the film combines their stories to give us a portrait of what life is like for people both trying to leave this insular community and for those who have left. It’s hardly a complete portrait, given that the film focuses only on three of the hundreds of thousands of Hasidic jews in the NYC area, but it is an affecting, alarming and scary portrait of what can happen when a liberal society excessively tolerates an illiberal sect inside of that society.
Watching a film like this makes us thankful we live in Ontario wherein some of the terrible stuff portrayed in this film would likely be impossible (and criminal). Because it’s hard to believe the some of the stuff that happens to the mother depicted in this film could happen in a borough that is supposedly one of the most progressive cities in the United States. And it’s really her story that is at the heart of the film, and the reason why you should watch it. The other two stories are affecting and involving and will make you think deeply about what it is like for people to live within a city but without interacting with that city. But the story of the mother is on another level and will make you think deeply about how unbelievably sexist (and outright harmful) the justice system continues to be in the name of following “the letter of the law.”
Though I have stylistic quibbles, the film is provocative, outrage-inducing and will hopefully inspire some change in the community it depicts (or to the laws of the State that allow this community to continue on like this). You should see this movie.