Sunday, March 14, 2010

Or (My Treasure) – Karen Yedaya (2004)

As the film Or opens, the title character, a teenage girl whose name simply means ‘my treasure,’ is bringing her mother home from the hospital.

We’re not told why exactly, but as the movie progresses we get a pretty good idea what kind of thing must have happened.

You see, Or’s mother Ruthie is a lady of the night. It’s not clear whether she was in the hospital because of an illness related to her profession or because of some kind of abuse she suffered at the hands of a client, but we’re given the distinct impression that it’s the latter.

Ruthie has promised her daughter that she will not go back out on the street again, but that’s easier said than done.
Or has found her mother potential work as a cleaning lady, but it’s clear that is not the kind of life that Ruthie wants.

Our hearts break with Or as she watches her mother destroy both her body and her spirit.

What is truly bizarre and foreign to most of us is that this lifestyle that really doesn’t have all that much to do with money.

The job as a cleaning lady is clearly not going to work out and that has nothing to do with the fact that it doesn’t pay very well.

Before long, Ruthie comes home in pretty bad shape.

Not bad enough to be taken to the hospital this time, but she’ll be off her feet for a day or two.

The tragedy of seeing this woman going back to the same life just to take more abuse is staggering.

There’s just no other way to say it.

This masterpiece from Israeli director Karen Yedaya emotionally floored me.

It won the coveted Camera d'Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and had it not been for the timely screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 , I think Or most likely would have won the Palme d'Or. Or (My Treasure) is by turns funny and tragic.

The love between the mother and daughter is genuinely tender. It is a love letter and an apology at the same time to both women and the destitute.

These dear, brave women are so poor that when they shower, they plug the drain with their dirty laundry and then wash their clothes with the suds from the shampoo they’ve rinsed out of their hair.

However, the film is more of a statement about the place women are given in society than about the plight of the poor.

The bottom line is that these women are in their predicament because we, not just men, but many upper-class women too, see the poor female as a beast of burden.

They are workers to exploit. And underprivileged women, as a group do not have union to form, which is a shame.
As things make their natural circle, the gloomiest of outcomes materialize. Our worst fears for Or, the treasure come true.

It’s no exaggeration to say that if the final shot of the film doesn’t shatter your heart, you don’t have one.

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