Sophie Renouf, Marketing Manager at Greenwich Picturehouse, shares her thoughts on this week’s Discover Tuesdays film, Orthodox.
Director: David Leon
Starring: Stephen Graham, Michael Smiley, Rebecca Callard. UK 2015. 98 mins.
Orthodox is a drama set within an Orthodox Jewish community in London. As the story unfolds the irony of the film’s title is revealed. We are introduced to protagonist Benjamin through a painful scene from his childhood in which he is bullied and abused by non-Jewish kids for his religion. The contrast between urban life and traditional Jewish culture is made stark in this scene and throughout, telling a significant part of the story of Benjamin’s internal conflict. The anti-Semitic brutality proves to be a catalyst for young Benjamin, who learns to box – not just for self-defence but also, as he explains to his aghast father, because he is good at it.
The adult Benjamin continues to be caught in a pressurising conflict between his beliefs – that he should be the sole provider for his family and a morally upright member of the community – and the reality that the butcher’s shop he inherited from his father is not making enough money. His fighting, though at odds with his religion and his father’s wishes, puts bread on the table.
His two worlds continue to clash and unravel. Benjamin cannot obtain the stable, traditional Jewish family life he longs for; poverty and despair push him further into a cold world of murky favours and dodgy dealings, until he finally makes a truly devastating mistake. Much of the film’s resonance comes from its portrayal of the cataclysmic effects of one bad decision.
Director David Leon has framed his story with powerful imagery: trapped dogs, grim estates and relentlessly grey skies all lend the film a bleak realism, an atmosphere of fear and corruption. The fight scenes are expertly choreographed, a relief from all the powerlessness and frustration. Orthodox is supported by an incredible British cast, and Michael Smiley is perfect as the seedy, repulsive Shannon. Stephen Graham (This Is England) shows his versatility as an actor in a subtly sensitive role. Giacomo Mancini is totally convincing as tough yet vulnerable youngster Daniel, who may provide finally Benjamin with an opportunity to do some good. Orthodox is a bleak and riveting tale of regret, redemption and the search for identity.
Times+ members can discover stunning cinema by visiting www.ourscreen.com/discover
Every day MUBI’s in-house experts hand-pick a beautiful new film and you have 30 days to watch it. £4.99 a month with the first month free for Picturehouse customers. mubi.com/picturehouse