SXSW 2021 Review: The Mohel

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

The Mohel is about a circumcision. James (Daniel Maslany) and his wife, Lola (Kaelen Ohm), have just had a baby, and James wants his son circumcised in a brit milah, a traditional Jewish ceremony that occurs eight days after a baby’s birth. But more than that, The Mohel is about a man caught between tradition he never fully understood and his current life, and through the performances the film conveys universal emotions regardless of religious background, though it remains firmly grounded in the Judaic tradition.

James, it becomes clear, is not a “good Jew,” as evidenced by his constantly-falling-off yarmulke he dons for the brit milah. Rabbi Fishel (played wonderfully by Sam Rosenthal), whom James hired, quickly notices this, and catches on to the fact that wife Lola was not born Jewish but rather converted; she reaches out to shake the rabbi’s hand before remembering that he wouldn’t be allowed to touch it, and forgets to cover up her decidedly unOrthodox tattoos. Still, Rabbi Fishel charms everyone with his geniality, and James and Lola begin to relax.

Yet after the ceremony itself goes smoothly, Rabbi Fishel reminds James of his religious shortcomings and the ways in which he falls short. In short, James isn’t Jewish enough. But what, exactly, does Jewish enough mean? Does it mean James has to become like Rabbi Fishel, who follows the law to a T but passes severe judgments and punishments on those he deems unworthy?

The film doesn’t dig quite deep enough into its premise of someone caught between worlds, but remains a competently made film with a beautiful blue color palette and strong performances that elevate it. It’s surprisingly funny (a rabbi walks into a circumcision and says, “I don’t just work for the tips!”) and never drifts into melodrama; while it fails to completely connect on a deeper level, The Mohel is an easily watchable film, even if some of it is also easily forgettable.

The Mohel Trailer

You can read Anna’s interview with Charles Wahl and Daniel Maslany, or you can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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