The stories of third world nations have always baffled me. Whether it be the tragic story of Mariam’s life in Afghanistan from ‘The thousand splendid suns’ or the current dispute between Palestine and Israel. Even the holocaust subjects. You wonder how unaware you were of the adversities people are facing if it weren’t for books, movies and series. One such series for me was Unorthodox. Unorthodox is the story of Esty who is trying to escape from her past. Her past is nothing but a community called Hasidic Jews, the values of which in retrospect have remained the same all these years.
Story and Screenplay
The protagonist, Esther Shapiro(Esty) was born and brought up in an ultra orthodox hasidic jewish community located in Brooklyn, New york. The most prominent teachings of this community include people submitting themselves to the Rabbi and following his teachings, never missing Sabbath, women following strict guidelines regarding dress codes and their main duty consists of taking care of the children and the household chores, strict kosher diet, no internet access, no television, etc. Esty being brought up in this environment has never had much issues in the beginning. But after she gets married, she notices that the norms that she has been following, being part of the community, is taking a toll on her life and that is when she decides to run away from it.
Shira Haas as Esty is such a pleasure to watch. This Emmy nominated Israeli actress’s face is packed with different emotions depicting perfect expression based on the situation. There is a tradition in this community where after a woman gets married, her head gets shaved and this scene was so beautifully acted by Shira where in Esty felt glad that she was following the scriptures of her community but also sad that she will no longer have her beautiful hair. I have seen Shira’s performance in another Israeli series called Shtisel and loved her there too. Amit Rahav as Yankee Shapiro who plays Esty’s husband is amazing as well. For a character who thinks that there is something wrong with his wife, and later trying to find her and convince her to come back is not an easy thing, and to portray such a role is an even difficult one which Amit accomplished so powerfully. This exact persuasion scene between these two actors is so intense that it makes you emotional. Other actors were good too. Jess Wilbush as Moishe, who in real life has been an ex-hasidic jew, is nice. Eli Rosen who plays the Rabbi is an ex-hasidic jew as well who guided everyone on the set about the customs and traditions of the community.
Dialogues, Direction, Language, Music
Direction of the series done by Maria Schrader is excellent, no wonder she won the Emmy award for outstanding directing for a limited series. There are lots of scenes in the entire series that are so gripping and captivating for which most of the credit goes to Maria and Shira. She tried to capture as many moments as possible to make the series memorable. The screenplay and cinematography are masterful as well. This series is inspired by the autobiography of Deborah Feldman called Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. Along with Eli, she guided the team as well. Throughout the series, the dialogues are mostly in Yiddish but English and German are used as well. In terms of music, the german orchestra, in particular, sounded so beautiful that not just Esty who listened to a live orchestra for the first time but even we as a viewer get astonished. Esty’s stunning performance in the end was just mind blowing. This series is available on Netflix.
Unorthodox was an eye opener. It is an amazing series which you will completely get hooked on right from the first episode. I would like to emphasize that this series is based on a single person’s perspective which might be true but to make an opinion about a community/religion based on a series would be wrong. If you would like to know more about this community you can watch the three part docu series by Peter Santenello available on youtube. All in all this series is a must watch and highly recommended. The entire experience lingers in your mind for a long time!
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.