Review – One of Us (2017)
Director(s): Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Writer(s): Also above
Release Date: October 20, 2017
What this documentary represents is nothing new. One of Us case studies ex-ultra-orthodox Jews, that were part of Hasidic Judaism and are now trying to adjust to life by practising their beliefs in a secluded fashion. When I state this is nothing new I am not trying to be smart. I have witnessed many documentaries about religious groups that suppress those who question anything outside it. Netflix Original One of Us is a refreshing but moving watch due to the determined nature of the people involved.
Who are the people involved?
The documentary portrays a few people who suffer from leaving the Hasidic community. There is a real sadness surrounding each person because the reality is, leaving the community means you give up a lot of benefits and needs; friends, family, security and financial incentives. Leaving essentially secludes you because you do not adhere to that sector of Judaism. The documentary makes it clear that some ultra-orthodox Jews will feel that they have to stay regardless of how they feel.
So it shows their bravery?
There is something fittingly admirable about witnessing religious people releasing themselves from their shackles and becoming their own person. It is risky but courageous. One of Us deals with these case studies sensitively because there are various hints that the secluded Jews are still deeply affected at present. There is no closure to their exit from the community. They have lost everything, including their own children in some cases, so it is not a documentary that showcases answers or happy endings. One of Us shows us the truth about their situation and puts a spotlight on the systematic abuse.
How does the documentary showcase the system?
It uses a range of different materials. The secluded Jews themselves describe their story, but then there are eye-opening moments where the documentary presents snippets from court cases where child custody is involved. It is nothing short of horrific how the community comes together to oust someone. There are some revealing scenes where Hasidic Jews approach one of the secluded and question why they are in the area. If anything, One of Us is another documentary that proves that extreme versions of religion are rife in various belief systems and sectors. However, I did feel that it could have offered more.
Well, it is moving, and you do have some real sympathy for those involved, however, due to the subject and the nature of the situation, there is a real effort to be as sensitive as possible. One of Us wants to remain as far away from controversy as it can. The documentary mentions at the start that World War Two is a real factor in how these communities formed, and due to this statement, it feels as though there is sympathy with both sides, regardless of the unforgivable treatment of the secular Jews. Due to this, it does feel slow, and you are desperate for more findings to come to the surface. It uses a fair deal of impressive shots to fill time, as well as the use of the people taking part in the case studies, but that only takes it so far. Moments where court cases are shown and confrontations are captured are the documentary’s main strengths.
It is worth the watch. The reason for my slight hesitation is that you can tell this is an issue that had to be handled carefully, which I always find to be an issue when the subject is religion. In this case, One of Us is a moving account of a variety of different people trying to exit themselves from an ultra-orthodox religious community.
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