Why is it that those who claim to be the most pious are the ones who end up being the most despicable?
The question is a theme that runs through Marek Rozenbaum’s The Belly Dancer.
Belly dancer Debbie (Meital Dohan) has joined her boyfriend Yaki in brazen house robberies, but their first bounty is not what they expected: instead of gold and cash, they end up with Jewish ritual items that are too easily traceable for them to dump in the black market.
As the couple and their accomplices deliberate how to cash out on the stolen loot, the men move in separate directions. Yaki (Yuval Segal) gets arrested in a compromising position with another woman. Goldie, (Alon Aboutboul), who owns the club where Debbie dances, begins to slide deeper into observance.
Though Goldie’s the one who shot the robbery victim in the foot to get the combination to the safe, he is the only one who sees more than monetary value in the spoils.
But he still wants to profit from the loot.
Debbie has her own demons to fight. She abandoned her religious upbringing, much to the dismay of her parents, and finds solace in her dancing. Being with Goldie, however, has been taking her back to her roots. Though at first she feels release from the difficulty of making ends meet while living on the edge of society, Debbie finds she and Goldie wants different things from each other.
Where Debbie wants a lover, Goldie wants subservience. His increasing insistence on Debbie’s modesty while she dances has begun to wear on her — it is the one part of her life she has managed to have complete control over.
The film’s turning point cements Goldie’s slide into fervency and Debbie’s ambivalence about the situation. Coupled with Yaki’s release from jail, the conclusion would be surprising if not for the obvious disdain director Rozenbaum holds for Israel’s religious population.
While Rozenbaum does a good job of showing the hypocritical nature of the men who consider themselves the most religious, something about The Belly Dancer doesn’t sit quite right. Debbie’s transformation from secular to spiritual and back happens so quickly it almost feels like we missed a few steps.
The characters themselves are one-dimensional — Yossi, the overweight, bumbling yeshiva bocher who can’t get the robbery victim to increase his ransom offering, is stereotypical enough as to be unbelievable. Even Debbie, though we feel her pain, is a character we’ve seen before. Which isn’t to say that The Belly Dancer isn’t a fun romp through Israel’s criminal underbelly — it just doesn’t feel as solid as many of the films to come out of the country of late.