Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"It's rough at the edges, but it still makes for compelling viewing because the charged nature of the situation an the force of will thereby required to get it off the ground." | Photo: Julieta Cervantes

There's an assumption that outsiders make, again and again, about societies with strictly divided gender roles: that men are oppressing women. Yes, there's a case to be made for that - some women feel that they need to escape and build lives elsewhere - but often, it's more complicated. Other women are happy in their traditional roles and eschew the idea that they should be considered equal to men in all areas. This doesn't mean, however, that they are in any way meek - nor does it mean that they don't strive for self-realisation and the best quality of life they can achieve within the rules they choose to live by.

In Hasidic Judaism, the separation between women and men is considerable. A traditionalist, religious woman will not normally have any physical contact with any man except her husband. As in most such cultures, there's an exception for medical emergencies, but that creates tensions of its own. If being touched by a man feels deeply disconcerting, it's not something one would want to have to deal with in an already stressful situation. Hospitals understand this, but how does a such woman get to hospital if the ambulance she needs is staffed by men?

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That's the problem that inspired the idea of Ezras Nashim, New York City's first ever ambulance service for women run by women. This documentary follows it through its birth pangs. It's told in a very simple style, with interviews and trips to meetings and occasional snippets of film of the crew in action. It's rough at the edges, but it still makes for compelling viewing because the charged nature of the situation an the force of will thereby required to get it off the ground.

Why is it a charged situation? Because many people in the community - mostly but not exclusively men - think that the last thing women should be doing is serving as ambulance drives or paramedics. Women, they argue, belong in the home, producing and raising children. This creates a lot of stress for Rachel 'Ruchie' Freier, the driving force behind the project, because she strongly desires to abide by the rules of her religion. She certainly doesn't see herself as a feminist. But Ruchie - who has the support of her husband - has already pushed boundaries by becoming a lawyer, and she will push them again when running for election as a judge. She doesn't see either of those things as incompatible with motherhood. Why should running an ambulance service be any different?

Ruchie has that particular quality that marks out those who are repeatedly successful in such endeavours: she's not afraid to be disliked. Indeed, she may not be liked by everyone who views this film. Aware of the political need to make compromises, she imposes one traditional rule on the service which forces other women into open rebellion. She's used to getting her way and has little sympathy for those who frustrate her aims or who are simply not ruthless enough to keep the pace. Yet we see enough of events from her perspective to appreciate her desire to solve problems with logic and brush inconvenient sentiment aside.

As intriguing a character study as it is a portrait of the ambulance service itself, 93Queen is a fierce little film which turns one myth on its head: that the work of realising human rights is for the constitutionally delicate.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2018
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A documentary following a group of Hasidic women who are determined to set up the first all-female ambulance corps in New York City.

Director: Paula Eiselt

Year: 2018

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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