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February 20, 2015

Independent films, like my pick for this week, have quickly become some of my favorites to watch because they have such unique stories to tell. Don’t get me wrong, I love the blockbuster hits, but I am glad movies that diverge from the norm are available to us as well.

This week, I watched the independent film “Arranged.” Shot over the course of 17 days, this film follows an Orthodox Jewish woman in New York City as she begins work at her first job. Rochel Meshenberg (Zoe Lister Jones) is a first year special education teacher in Brooklyn. She quickly learns the ropes of the public education system along with another first-time teacher, Nasira Khaldi (Francis Benhamou).

Rochel and Nasira have to work together after a student bluntly asks if Rochel is afraid of Nasira because she’s Muslim. The two change the climate of the classroom and prove that two seemingly opposite people can find common ground.

This message is accepted in the classroom much easier than it is in the real world. The two are confronted with expectations from society and from their families that are in direct conflict, and Rochel and Nasira have to navigate life between the two.

First, the two are accosted by the principal of the school for not embracing feminist views and turning their backs on archaic religious practices. Then, they have to deal with the very real fact that their communities do not coexist well. At one point, Rochel’s mother forces Nasira to leave because she is afraid of what the people in the neighborhood would say.

Ultimately, Rochel and Nasira cultivate a close friendship and bond over their impending arranged marriages. They understand that while things work differently in their religions, there are still glaring similarities and pressure from outside the community to conform to society’s norms.

It wasn’t until after I watched this film that I found out it was loosely based on the true story of an Orthodox Jewish woman from New York named Yuta Silverman. She went to extreme lengths to reach out to different production companies in the hopes that this story of friendship could be told.

“Arranged” has won several awards at various film festivals, including the Berkshire International Film Festival and the Brooklyn International Film Festival.

With a rating of four out of five stars on Netflix, I would recommend this movie to anyone and everyone. It’s a great film to get you out of your comfort zone and to be more open to different ideas and beliefs.

Mackenzie Mahler
Courier Features Editor

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