Pork and Milk

By Steven Zeitchik

Published January 13, 2006, issue of January 13, 2006.
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Breaks from tradition also weigh on the mind of Valérie Mréjen, director of the pleasingly low-key French documentary “Pork and Milk.” Through a series of interviews, Mréjen throws a light on a number of young Israeli men who also happen to be have left the fold of ultra-Orthodoxy: a chef, a cantor with the radical sect Neturei Karta, a soldier and one female rugby player.

If the film sometimes smacks of the self-congratulation that plagues Eshaghian, it’s also saved by moments of remarkable nuance. The hero of the ensemble cast is a former religious man, who, far from flaring his nostrils at his former life, genuinely tries to make sense of how to resolve two irreconcilable worlds. He describes the “mutual lie” he and his parents perpetuated when they first found out about his secularism. There are few villains or victims here, just the confusion that comes when religion and relatives mix.

Other characters can be more single-minded. The chef who gets much of the airtime has a tendency to long-windedness that leaves out the best parts. He tells of two sisters who followed him out of the fold, but he never explains what happened. Nor does he elaborate on whether he feels triumph or guilt over his unexpected influence. The film also offers very little glimpse into the world these people are coming from, and the effect is to hear about exile without seeing any of its precipitating conditions.

For the most part, though, “Pork and Milk” avoids easy answers. In one scene, a cantor dons his old garb and begins chanting, easily slipping back into his former life. The film remains intriguingly vague about whether it means to show the grip held by the past or the ease with which appearances deceive in the religious world.

In the movie’s strongest moment, the man who tells of the mutual lie describes how the secular world can be filled with just as many preconceptions as the religious world, and how pointing out to secularists their own contradictions about intermarriage or Yom Kippur still fills him with religious pride. At its best, “Pork and Milk” evokes the gay-religion documentary “Trembling Before God” — only with a refreshing lack of topicality and greater subtlety.






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