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One of Us
Much is at stake in this thriller from reality.


One of Us is described as a "documentary thriller" by program manager Thom Powers in the program talk at TIFF Docs (Toronto International Film Festival). The description couldn't fit better. This thrilling, gripping and unsettling film by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Detropia, Jesus Camp) talks seriously about the difficult situation of three New Yorkers. The three main characters are individuals who try to break free from the suffocating cravings of the Hasidic community. The urge to escape is immediately felt in this fascinating documentary, where the footage and dramaturgy are like a Hollywood horror movie. However, the excitement can become overwhelming when it becomes clear that what is at stake is real.

People live double lives and are forced to live out their desires secretly for fear of being discovered.

Three reasons to break. Etty, a woman in her early thirties, describes what it was like to be married as an 19 year-old to a life that stripped her of opportunities and self-determination. She portrays an oppressive life with one childbirth after another – her function was little more than being a womb, and she gave birth to her seventh child before she became 30. Etty still loves her children, and the interviews Grady and Ewing make with her show an honest, heartfelt desire to save the children from the life she knows awaits them if she is raising them in a Hasidic way.

Luzer is an actor in his late 20s, and he talks about leaving his wife and children to pursue the dream of developing as an actor. Films and television are not allowed within Hasidism, and Luzer's escape reveals the extent to which people live a double life and are forced to live out their desires secretly for fear of being discovered. The film shows seven years of recording Luzer and documents his path to a free life as a creative artist – with Jewish and Hasidic characters as a niche – after discovering the wonder of the internet. (As a side note, Luzer Twersky's success as an actor includes the Canadian drama Felix & More, who won the "Best Canadian Feature" award at TIFF and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015.)

Ari, 18, has been sexually abused. As a result, he has become a drug addict and is trying to get a rehabilitation program that includes rescuing from the lifestyle he uses drugs to escape. His childhood trauma bears witness to the rooted institutional conservatism of Hasidism, as the abuse, which happened at a summer camp, is overlooked by the elderly and explained away with pitiful excuses of the type "He fell on you" continuing the status quo.

Aspects of conservatism. The idea of ​​"status quo" becomes significant in One of Us when Grady and Erwing introduce a legal standard that institutionalizes the repressive norms of Hasidic society. Fear and alienation are not to be borne when the three main characters literally put every aspect of their lives at risk in order to escape. What the filmmakers reveal is a society with unilateral control.

The protagonists' life situation is seen in the context of the US return to a conservative regime dominated by subcultural struggles to survive.

Pro-Trump posters and news clippings place the characters' difficult situation, along with America's own return to a conservative regime dominated by a subcultural struggle for survival. While Trump's presidency is the white supremacy of the past, point One of Us that Hasidism grew out of the Holocaust when millions of Jews lost their lives and the Jewish culture as a whole was to be destroyed. The documentary captures the complexity of Hasidic society, which exists as an inherent appeal for preservation, but which violates the rights of its members by clinging to ideals from which the larger community has departed.

Faith and hope. The less you know about a movie like that One of Us, the better – as the excitement and revelations communicate the excitement and anxiety the main characters experience every day. The filmmakers have wisely learned a lesson from Jesus Campera, and portrays the Hasidic society in all its conservatism and complexity without insisting that their lifestyle is the only way to experience truly religious faith. Judaism remains a key factor in the film as Etty, Ari and Luzer struggle with the implications of their choices. Faith brings a long-awaited glimmer of hope to their stories.

The movie can now be seen on Netflix.

Previously published in POV. See also povmagazine.com
for an interview with Rachel Grady and Heidi Erwing.

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