Song Of Songs

Song Of Songs


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Ruth (Nathalie Press) has recently returned home from studying in Israel to care for her terminally ill mother. Her brother David (Joel Chalfen), meanwhile, has rejected both his faith and his mother, blaming them for driving his father to suicide some years before.

Relying for much of its meaning upon the viewer's knowledge of Orthodox Jewish life, with religious passages frequently delivered in Hebrew, without the benefit of subtitles, Song Of Songs is a difficult film for the outsider to fully apprehend. There is, however, still enough in terms of broader themes, such as the universal versus the particular, to make it worthwhile.

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David's frustration at his religion's seeming lack of concern with an external world where "bombs are going off" might be taken as a rejection of Orthodox Jewish separateness/difference. Alternatively - and more hubristically - it could be taken as a selfish, personal attempt to mark himself out as somehow special and different amongst the rest of his faith community.

Likewise, with the relationship between David and Ruth subsequently developing along decidedly unhealthy, incestuous lines, as the former invokes his own law in place of that "of the father", elements of Greek tragedy and Freudian psychoanalysis emerge - even if the Oedipus and Jocasta roles seem to be somewhat reversed and hence problematised.

As such, a case can undoubtedly be made for alienation and difficulties of interpretation as being at the core of the work. The lack of subtitles, for instance, might suggest God's silence/absence and the distance between religious words and rituals and contemporary life. It's also worth noting that co-writer/director Josh Appignanesi's mise-en-scene is frequently cold and clinical, with characters often being filmed from behind.

Pleasure can, in any case, always be taken in the uniformly excellent performances, with both Press and Chalfen utterly convincing. The contrast between Ruth and Press's wayward tomboy in last year's My Summer Of Love signifies a precocious talent with impressive range.

A challenging, powerful and thought-provoking piece of cinema with some haunting images.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2005
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The stirrings of incestuous passion against a background of deeply felt religious beliefs.
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Director: Josh Appignanesi

Writer: Jay Basu, Josh Appignanesi

Starring: Nathalie Press, Joel Chalfen, Julia Swift, Leon Lissek, Felicite Du Jeu, Elliot Levey

Year: 2005

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2005

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