Netflix series Unorthodox brings forth an insightful, important memoir of a Jewish woman escaping her Hasidic community in Williamsburg, New York.
Netflix limited series Unorthodox will be released on the platform on March 26th, 2020 – the series is based on the true-life story and memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots”. Add it to your Netflix list now.
This is not the first time Netflix has covered a story on an ultra-orthodox Jewish person finding a way to escape her Hasidic community — One of Us gave us an insightful documentary into the life of a community and the impact it can have if someone desires to break the rules. Netflix series Unorthodox is not a documentary, but it is an inspiring true story based on an insightful memoir by Deborah Feldman.
Unorthodox follows a character named Esty (nicknamed Esther) who has grown up in a Hasidic community that follows ultra-orthodox rules. if you are unaware of what that means, it’s a strict community that follows specific rules — for example, no smartphones, arranged marriages, not allowed to consume western ideologies like YouTube or television; it’s a very restricted community and the purpose of the woman is to procreate to, as Esty puts it in the Netflix series, “bring back the 6 million”. It’s an overwhelming community that looks after each other but leaving it is equally as dangerous.
Unorthodox brings a story of what happens if you attempt to not conform — in the case of Esty, she finds a way of leaving Williamsburg, New York to flee to Berlin using German citizenship paperwork. Going to Germany is a highly controversial move as you can imagine in the context of the story.
This is a story that requires your time and respect and not one to watch half-heartedly on a Sunday afternoon. You will want to watch all 4 parts at once if it captures your attention.
The Netflix series is split into two parts; it follows Esty in Berlin and how she adjusts to a conventional, sociable lifestyle where freedom can feel overwhelmingly confusing and daunting, yet breathtaking and exciting at the same time. The other part of the Netflix series goes into Esty’s recent past where she is arranged to marry a Jewish man named Yanky.
Her past is a tragic story of a woman trying to ensure she complies with her husband’s wishes, and the mental toll it takes on her.
Unorthodox balances past and present sensibly, directing in such a way where the past mirrors up to the present — with scenes of freedom matching those of social imprisonment. The Netflix series does marvellously well to demonstrate the seriousness of Esty’s risk of leaving, and how she handles the prospect of being found by her husband. There are scenes where you feel like you are gasping for breath with Esty — her feeling of freedom for the first time is delicately done. Each episode is done meticulously with care, ensuring the audience understands the character and her ever-evolving world, which will presumably feel simple for the audience, but the series makes it feel so new.
The limited series would not have been possible without Deborah’s memoir, but it also would not have reached the lengths it does without the compelling performances of Shira Haas, whose range is incredible. The actor goes to extreme lengths to represent the character, allowing the production team to shave her head completely in one of the scenes, which she felt she had to do to truly capture the emotion of the story. Shira Haas is one to look out for in the future — her malleable performances strike accordingly for the audiences and she makes it easy to center on Esty, and her external environment feel secondary.
Netflix limited series Unorthodox is the first Yiddish-language production to come out of Germany, so it’s also something unprecedented. This story comes highly recommended and should be added to your watch list.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.