British documentary 'Kosher Cruise' introduces complex, authentic representations of ultra-Orthodox life
Bedroom. An ultra-Orthodox couple belonging to the Hassidic Gur dynasty is packing for a two-week cruise in the Mediterranean. She complains he is squishing her wig; he chides her for taking too many hangers. The shtreimel fur hat, still carefully wrapped ahead of a romantic stroll in Venice, is proudly displayed on its new owner's head. All this takes place in front of a filmmaker who is, in any way, an "ultimate stranger."
That is the opening scene of the fascinating British documentary "Kosher Cruise," which aired on Israel's Yes Doco channel for the first time last week. As the film unfolds, that intimate scene will signify the beginning of an in-depth look into the relationship of an ultra-Orthodox couple – Gaby and Tikwah Lock, who have been married for 40 years.
Frame by frame, British director Paddy Wivell manages what so many filmmakers, including Israeli ones, have failed to do: portraying the image of ultra-Orthodox Jews in a profound and authentic manner, one that viewers can understand and even identify with. The film provides a sensitive and courageous insight into the lives of a middle-aged Hassidic couple.
Hassidic on the edge
Wivell is obviously fascinated with the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle. The esteemed BBC director has continuously chosen to document religious Jews in the UK, most specifically focusing on their relationships.
In his previous documentary, "Wonderland: A Hassidic Guide to Love, Marriage and Finding a Bride," Wivell infiltrated the reserved Hassidic Jewish community of Stamford Hill, where he followed young couples that were about to get married. "Kosher Cruise" follows a Hassidic couple from London going on their first vacation.
Wivell is apparently aware of his immense cinematic accomplishment with "Kosher Cruise." The filmmaker met Gaby and Tikwah, the film's protagonists, while filming "Wonderland," and what began as a professional relationship blossomed into a friendship – so much so that it was in fact the couple's idea to make "Kosher Cruise."
Wivell admits that most ultra-religious Jews he encountered while filming were very communicative, hoping to promote a better understanding of their way of life. Gaby Lock is one such person; or as Wivell says, Gaby is not afraid to challenge himself and "think outside the box."
According to filmmaker, meeting the Locks has enriched his life, which is evident in the film. What could have been a banal documentary of a romantic cruise turns into an intricate interpretation of religion, marriage and social encounters.
In a way, the film is not really about a kosher cruise, but about Gaby and Tikwah's relationship. The cruise forced the Locks to reexamine their marriage. The film even joins them on a couples therapy session. Wivell's journey into the complexities of married life shows that the Locks' problems are probably the same as those of secular couples all over the world.