Seven Blessings (Ayelet Menahemi, 2023): Israel

Reviewed by Andrea Weaver at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, 2024.

A film that really stood out to me at SBIFF would be Seven Blessings directed by Ayelet Menahemi. This is an Israeli film starring Reymonde Amsallem, Idit Teperson, Yael Levental, Tikva Dayan, and various others that depict the Seven Blessings family tradition and the custom of parents giving their infant daughters away or “child loaning”, which was an Israeli-Morrocan custom I was not aware of before watching this. The film opens with Marie’s wedding in Israel, where she returns from France to marry her husband in the presence of both families. As the story unfolds over seven overtly chaotic family dinners, we gradually learn that Marie was given away by her birth mother at the age of two to her infertile sister.

A large family’s complicated and nuanced relationships are revealed throughout the film as their interactions shift from a warm and loving relationship to an explosive resentment that dominates the family gatherings. With a focus on huge, complex families, the characters show themselves to be remarkably real and credible in their interactions with one another. There are so many characters in this movie that it may be hard to tell which one is related to whom, but the directors should be recognized for their skill in balancing a large number of characters without sacrificing the film’s inherent authenticity. Seven Blessings offers an honesty that lets the truth slowly surface throughout the narrative, giving a realistic and unsettlingly familiar impression of the tension that arises when families meet together for significant occasions and holidays. With each meal, we discover more and more about Marie and her family, until we get to a breaking point over the disagreements of Marie’s undealt feelings of abandonment and resentment towards her mother. Something I appreciated about the film’s cinematography would be how close the cameras were to the actors throughout the entire movie, which made me feel claustrophobic at times and uncomfortably connected to the characters on screen as they faced adversities amongst each other. The framing was incredibly fitting for a film that lets the audience peak into the most private family matters.

The film builds gradually until the big reveal when Marie discovers a secret about her adoptive mother that changes everything. After this revelation, the audience is left to speculate as to whether or not the family’s divisions could ever be reconciled. From start to finish, though, the film makes it very evident that trauma from the past cannot be forgotten or ignored and will continue to do harm until an emotional release occurs. This is a quiet story that gets darker as it goes along, but the director constantly entices you with the hope that it can be redeemed. The plot of the movie peels back a whopping seven times to show the simmering grief and the love below. It’s amazing, given how genuine this movie feels, that half of the actors are relatives of the writers that have never acted before, which is something I learned while researching the cast. I’m not going to give away the last sequence, but it truly brought me to tears. The film’s hovering themes of family resentment and forgiveness proved to be astoundingly powerful by the end, leaving a profound impact as I witnessed the family confront their deep-rooted issues on screen.

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