Little Jersualem Karin Albou

One of the timelier releases of the last few weeks, Little Jerusalem is an intimate look into the Parisian suburb of the title, a low-income enclave of mostly Orthodox and immigrant Jews. With the rising tension between French Jews and Muslims as a backdrop, director Karin Albou focuses on young philosophy student Laura as she struggles to break free from tradition in order to live a life defined by reason. Many of the characters are all too familiar — the overbearing, superstitious mother from the old country (in this case, Tunisia), the obedient sister who serves as a foil to the protagonist, the star-crossed love interest (an Algerian Muslim political refugee whose family will not accept Laura any more than hers will accept him) — but the viewer is nevertheless drawn into Laura’s world, alien in its customs but archetypal in the kinds of questions it raises. Ultimately, the film doesn’t pit reason and passion as opposing ideals but as necessary counterparts to one another; their battle for Laura’s soul may seem quaint by contemporary liberal standards but as a metaphor for her inability to define herself while remaining in the shadow of her family, it works perfectly. Albou can be a bit heavy-handed in her approach — Laura’s philosophical epiphanies by expository lectures at her university, the hypocrisy of organised religion being revealed when her sister’s blind faith is no help after her devout husband strays — but the end result is surprisingly effective. Neither religion nor philosophy are condemned; in finding herself, Laura never completely abandons her culture, as binding as it may be. By balancing the broader themes of loneliness and sensuality in this way, Albou has created a better than average coming-of-age story. Rather than espouse an overtly secular or political agenda, she uses the proverbial journey from childhood to independence in order to create a layered and meaningful meditation on the clash between tradition and modernity. Extras: Fanny Valette screen test, original French trailer, English subtitles. (Seville)