TREMBLING BEFORE G-D
directed by Sandi Simcha DuBowski opens March 29 at Metro
"I MISS BEING with people who have fear of God," laments David, a young HIV-positive student determined to maintain his Orthodox Jewish faith. Like the other men and women compassionately profiled in this documentary, he's struggling to be both openly gay and a member of the Orthodox community. Trembling Before G-d movingly conveys their sense of estrangement, though it stumbles as a deeper look at Orthodox conservatism itself.
Director Sandi Simcha DuBowski sees the complexities at hand and allows for intriguing debate—Trembling courses with honest befuddlement and frustration on both sides. But she's too respectful of the faith to soundly explore the difficult questions that will nag any outsider: If you profess a religion based on the enforced practice of centuries-old beliefs, can you then reasonably expect those ancient codes, however unfair, to be changeable? What, outside of the powerful tug of family tradition and community that DuBowski articulates so beautifully, do gays and lesbians want from a creed that prohibits menstruating women from touching their own husbands?
Trembling is most compelling when it indirectly addresses such tensions. Israel, an aging softhearted man living with his lover in Brooklyn, admits that he's "studied too much to believe that you can be Orthodox and be queer." He's relaxed and funny, if melancholy, apparently resigned to an unbridgeable divide. Yet DuBowski catches the explosive undercurrents of conflicted regret; by the end of the film, Israel is heartbreakingly denouncing his religion— and his father's emotional distance—to a sympathetic young Orthodox stranger on the street. "I know I live in my faith!" he cries, adding, "I don't know what that faith is."