By Phil Hall | March 7, 2011

Israel’s Samaritan sect is very small – roughly 700 members divided between the town of Holon and Mt. Gerizim in Nablus within the occupied West Bank. One might imagine that this tiny community would do everything possible to maintain unity, but Barak Heymann’s documentary offers a harsh picture of a hostile environment where harassment and revenge is waged against a Samaritan family whose daughters left the community.

The central focus here is on Sophie Tzdaka, an Israeli entertainer, and her elderly father Baruch, who remains devoted to the sect despite the harassment of his fellow Samaritans (which included having him arrested on false robbery charges). Sophie and her father constantly appear to be in parallel conversations – she cannot fathom his continued faith despite the hostility of the community while he berates her for abandoning her religious heritage.

The father-daughter bickering quickly becomes tiresome, derailing what might have been a disturbing view of this little-known religious population. The film works best when it interviews other members of the Samaritan community, particularly the less-than-pious high priest (who has no problems expressing his infantile hatred of the Tdzaka family) and his thuggish adult son (who boasts that he would rather slash his sister’s throat than allow her to marry a Jewish man). These not-so-good Samaritans create a jolting portrait of people who clearly do not practice what they preach, and it seems that a large number of men and women have joined the Tdzaka daughters in defecting from its suffocating environment.

The brief acknowledgment that the Samaritans need to import non-Samaritan women for their men to marry is an intriguing consideration that, sadly, is not fully pursued. It is a shame that Heymann could not look beyond the argumentative Tzdaka clan and offer a wider view of this strange sect.

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