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Red Cow (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Red Cow


Starring Avigayil Kovary, Gal Toren, Moran Rosenblat, Dana Sorin, Yael Mor, Shira Blitz, Amit Braverman, Yehuda Schlisser, Maya Gasner, Eli Furmano, Yagel Tamir, Maayen Gottshalk, Elad Samocha, Eli Haviv, Uri Hochman, Avi Mazliah and Tal Nitzan.

Screenplay by Tsivia Barkai Yacov.

Directed by Tsivia Barkai Yacov.

Distributed by Menemsha Films. 91 minutes. Not Rated.

Screened for the 2019 Israel Film Center Festival.

Red Cow takes a look at the coming of age of a teen girl living with her very religious father near the Old City section of modern Jerusalem on the West Bank.

Like many of the films at the Israel Film Center Festival this year, it explores the crossroads between the secular and the devout – and characters who are being pulled between religious faith and modern life.

Avigayil Kovary (who won the Best Actress prize at the 2018 Jerusalem Film Festival) plays Benny, a teen girl who has been raised by her strictly religious single father. He is played by Gal Toren, who was nominated for Best Actor for the Ophir Awards, which is Israel’s equivalent of the Academy Awards.

He is a quietly loving, protective man, trying to raise his daughter steeped in a world of faith. (Benny’s mother died in childbirth when Benny was born.) However, he has more trouble being there for her about her more pedestrian teenaged problems and little rebellions. As far as Benny is concerned there are some things that cannot be prayed away, and like so many children of strictly religious parents, she is starting to question her upbringing.

This all comes to a head when the local community gets the titular heifer, a “miracle” baby cow with soft red hair. The religious zealots see the cow as a sign and the answer of a prayer. It must eventually be sacrificed in order for the Jews to return to the Temple Mount. Her father puts Benny in charge of caring for the cow. Benny feels a connection with the cow, because her hair is much the same shade, which makes her nearly as much of a rarity in her community.

At this same time, Benny starts getting confusing feelings about Yael (played by Moran Rosenblatt, who was also nominated for an Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actress), a visiting young woman who has been brought to help with the sacrifice of the heifer. Yael has her own problems – she is a reflexive cutter – and soon befriends Benny, however as their relationship becomes closer, it also becomes more complicated.

As Benny starts experimenting with her sexuality she is put in a no-win position. There is no tolerance for homosexuality in her tight-knit little community. While Benny is feeling the pangs of first love, her father is trying to balance his love for his daughter with his belief that she is on the precipice of an unforgivable sin. He mostly responds by becoming stricter and more distant, until the inevitable blowup arrives. In the meantime, Benny’s eagerness (perhaps even neediness) is scaring Yael away, as Yael knows well the price that a woman would pay in this community for giving in to her lesbian urges.

First-time director Tsivia Barkai Yacov has come up with a smart, nuanced and very tactfully handled look at a potentially explosive subject. She recognizes the potential for exploitation and handles the few sexually charged scenes here with tasteful restraint. She is also able to show that the devoutly religious father is not a monster. He loves his daughter no matter what, he is just not sure how to deal with her. Therefore, he turns to God, not quite realizing that religion may help him to cope but it is separating him from the one thing he loves the most, his daughter.

Red Cow is a complex and somewhat sad film with no real easy answers. Just like life.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: June 11, 2019.

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