Mendy

"Weak"

Mendy Review


In his first shot at writing, directing, and producing, Israeli filmmaker Adam Vardy fashions a somewhat wobbly story out of a rare instance in the life of a religiously committed Jew in New York: a leaving of the faith. The title character (Ivan Sandomire) has been a devout Hasid, an ultra orthodox Jew who dwells on mystical aspects of old testament scripture and ignores to the greatest extent possible the evils, crudeness and corruption in the society around them. Mendy's entire family and support network are Hasids, or Hasidim.

One link in Mendy's sinful renouncement of his religion that is missing from Vardy's scenario is what compelled his choice, but we infer that it's a rebellion against the strictness of his teachings and desire for something more in life. He's your classic non-ascetic kid of his generation.

Having made his decision to leave home and its smothering restrictions, Mendy comes looking for his childhood buddy Yankel (Spencer Chandler) who long ago preceded him to the loose freedoms of secularism. Mendy finds Yankel in the raucous atmosphere of a Manhattan club where, after being ridiculed for his long sideburns and general Hasidic appearance, asks for and gets a temporary place to stay with his debauched old pal.

Constantly bragging about how easy it is for him to fulfill his sexual needs and giving Mendy a quick taste of the pleasures that await his immersion into his new life, Yankel takes Mendy home and introduces him to black roommate Bianca, a seemingly carefree dancer from Brazil who thinks nothing of running around (at home) in the near-nude.

But first impressions are misleading, as Mendy finds out when the apparently liberated girl turns out to be the hardest of all to get anywhere with. Those who would if they could include Yankel, whose character is expressed in his trying to leave the impression that he has; and Bianca's employer, bar owner and drug dealer Michael (Jonathan Hova, Law and Order) who is more mature (read, heavy) about his desire. Michael's underground activity is smuggling drugs to Israel, and he sees in the rabbinical-looking Mendy an ideal courier.

Easy money confirms it when Mendy smuggles his first load, but his journey into this new life is less than clear cut or comfortable. Smuggling isn't exactly his natural groove, and it makes for a great deal of confusion. He may have left the restrictions of the Hasid but his values haven't flip-flopped.

Unfortunately for the movie, the dilemma of dealing with choices is a reflection of the director's unsure hand with the theme, though it will play with special sympathy to an Israeli audience.

Vardy exploits Sandomire's sweetly boyish nature with enough realism to make the adventure-into-the-unknown credible. Dias threads a frayed line of character development with the implication that she'd do better with firmer material. As it is, it's difficult to get a handle on this distracting woman.

Chandler takes the surest part in the story as a man whose childhood disciplines did little to instill moral or spiritual grounding. Even in a devotional society there are failures who don't waver in their weaknesses.

In a framework, then, of freedom over faith, what wins out but romance? The relationship between Bianca and her naive paramour takes over the movie, where the strongest interest lies, and it's not by accident that it ends on an inconclusive note. Writer-director Vardy attempts to raise the dramatic possibilities of a cross-cultural romance by pulling his central character from the most fundamentalist sect in the society, but he fails to light up the candles, let alone create fireworks.

The movie's official subtitle is "A Question of Faith" but let me suggest, instead, "Hedonism over Hasidism."

The DVD contains director commentary and two music videos by The Sway Machinery.



Mendy

Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 20th September 2003

Distributed by: Andes Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 6.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Adam Vardy

Producer: Adam Vardy

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