By Zack Haddad | March 17, 2007

2007 SXSW EMERGING VISIONS FEATURE! Religion is a big issue in our country, and in the Middle East, it is part of an even bigger confrontation. The Jewish and Muslim populations have not seen eye to eye with each other since day one, and “Arranged” looks to show that just because Arabs and Jews have different beliefs, they aren’t so different after all. While this film is good example of making unlikely friends, it’s hindered by a lackluster supporting cast and multiple long-winded moments.

Rochel (Zoe Lister-Jones) comes from an Orthodox Jewish family and she meets Nasira (Francis Benhamou), who is Muslim, and they become friends while teaching at a Brooklyn school. As they grow closer, it seems everyone around them objects to the notion of them being friends. Now the two women are forced to find husbands through arranged marriage and neither are entirely comfortable with that idea. The aspect of these two women becoming friends is interesting to me. Since it is easy to see that very few people want these two to stay friends it adds a great conflict.

The film was directed by Stefan Schaefer and Diane Crespo. Now I am not sure what either of these directors’ religious background are, but I felt like they did a good job of displaying both families religious customs in an accessible way. It is also to be noted that the production design for this film was done exceptionally well. I had an easy time believing that Nasira and her family would live in that house they used. Same goes for Rochel and the school also had a unique look to it as well. Other than that, I did have multiple issues with the rest of the film.

I had alluded to this earlier, so I might as well talk about the supporting cast. For as much screen time as they gave the principal, I hate every second she was onscreen since I never bought her character. When she is talking about how both of their religions make them uptight and tried to give them money to buy clothes, I had a hard time believing her. Also, the kids in their classroom were a bit ridiculous. Granted it can be hard working with child actors, but in this instance, one of the kids is supposed to give the first sign of conflict with their religions. The fact that you are giving a line of dialogue that pertains to the main conflict of the film to a child is risky to begin with and it came off tacky. There is a moment where Rochel’s dad is explaining something and you see a head bob up and down from behind the couch he is sitting on. Then out of nowhere, the head of one of the siblings pops up and the actor makes direct eye contact with the camera for a few seconds and ducks back down. Now I have no idea what that was about and I am ready to just pass that off as a technical problem of sorts since he is never acknowledged for even being there so he must not of been part of that scene in general, but it’s problems like these that take this film’s thunder.

Even though my negatives are a bit more in-depth than my likes, I do have to admit that I didn’t really hate this film. It just could have been way better. I think the story itself was awesome and the production design was great. It is just too bad that the execution fell short with the story of these two characters.

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