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May 22, 2022

A new father clashes with the rabbi at his baby's rite of passage ceremony. | The Mohel (video)


James is jubilant with the birth of his new son. But now he has to arrange for his son's bris, flying in a "mohel" -- a trained and ordained Jew in the covenant of "brit milah," or circumcision -- at his own expense. But when the rabbi arrives, he disapproves of his wife Lola, who isn't as traditional as he'd like. And when the rabbi refuses to offer his final certificate of the ceremony, he confronts the limit of religion and his place within it. Written and directed by Charles Wohl, this short drama captures the intersection of family life with the larger cultural, social and religious structures that surround it. Shot with a gently muted naturalism, the result is an intimately calibrated, engrossing insight into how these institutions perpetuate themselves, exerting power in the most precious and vulnerable family events. Excellent writing, performances and direction offer economical but sharply observant characterizations that pack a lot of knowledge and meaning in a short amount of time. As James navigates the ins and outs of arranging for the mohel, viewers are privy to the hopes, assumptions and expectations of both James and Lola, played by actors Daniel Maslany and Kaelen Ohm with palpable connection and the tenderness of new parents. The couple's expectations get a jolt when Rabbi Fischel arrives. Played by actor Sam Rosenthal, he's friendly, warm and jovial, but key moments reveal his larger religious viewpoint, which is at odds with the couple's overall looser relationship with their faith. When the rabbi isn't afraid to assert that viewpoint, James questions just what role his religion and cultural upbringing have in his own life, and the future life of his son. "The Mohel" exists on an even keel, and while the conflict is stinging, it never falls into melodrama. Part of the failsafe is the characters themselves, modern and easygoing in the contemporary currents of the world. The storytelling understands how James is simply baffled by Rabbi Fischel's demands at the film's end, and how that bafflement pulls him into reflection afterward, as he questions just what it means for his son's future. Tradition can be a stern master but seductive in its promise of familial and communal belonging, but the film asks just how much we have to reshape ourselves to fit into it -- and what it means for the generation after.

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