Tahara

This ‘Double Take’ review gives two brief perspectives on Olivia Peace’s 2020 film “Tahara”, which played at this year’s Frameline LGBTQ  film festival. The film is written by Jess Zeidman, and stars Rachel Sennott and Maddie Freece as two teenagers navigating sexuality during a day of Hebrew school. The two point-of-views may or may not share a rating of the film, and may differ in the use of language in which they use to discuss marginalized groups in which they belong to.

Tahara skillfully captures the messy, and often awkward, ways that queer teenagers grow up and test the waters of their orientation and identity. With the inability of the characters to fully articulate and demonstrate their feelings, intense burstss of desire and the beginnings of homosexuality, animated versions of the characters take over to express these often surreal feelings. In particular, the mashed animated plasticine faces of the characters after they kiss is a powerful image, which effectively shows the awkward side of adolescent love in a way that still feels all too rare. Changing aspect ratios (for the most part, the film is shot in a unique 1:1) are used to personalise and add perspective to emotionally charged scenes, such as the first kiss between the two girls. Many  devices the film employs detail the awkward complexities of teenage relations, in particular the intersections of sexual orientation and experiencences of religion with the universal coming-of-age struggles.

Narratively speaking, one of the beauties of Tahara, also seen, for example, in the film XXY, which tells the story of an intersex teen also learning how to identify within the world, is that there is no deep personal revelation within the characters. They do not leave the film having found substantial answers to existential questions that they may have as their minds still develop, aligning with the reality that, for many LGBT adolescents, identity is not a linear process and self discovery does not end with transition to adulthood. This unabashed honesty makes the film a compelling, insightful glance into adolescent struggles and fears. Set in the midst of of the suicide of a classmate who is rumoured to have been a lesbian, giving precedent for the prejudices these young girls expect to face, Tahara manages not to trivialise the struggles and fears of its teenage characters, instead giving a voice to those coming into sexuality, and questioning identity, while exploring the hold of that peer pressure and social hierarchy has at this age.

Review by Bel Mander

Named after the traditional Jewish burial practice of a ritual cleansing, a process maintaining modesty in which the body is washed, alongside the recitation of prayers, so that it can leave the world clean and pure the way a child enters it, Tahara is a film about the mark left behind on community. The suicide of a classmate, claimed to be a lesbian by classmates in her small Hebrew school, is a shadow that hangs over the young characters as they question their own same sex attractions. She was not allowed to leave the world left truly clean from her life, as these rumours still follow her without the chance to confirm and allow for truth even in death, and this association of homosexuality with lingering gossip is a weight that bears down on Carrie (Madeline Grey DeFreece) when she develops feelings for her female best friend after a kiss. 

By setting the film within the Hebrew school over the course of a few hours, Tahara limits its environment so we can focus on the characters. Religion is not highlighted as a specific plot element, but is instead an overarching sense of community. Here, we are seeing these teenagers united by death and the confusion that comes with it, in a realm where they are usually building collective through religion, and the shared celebrations, as well as rituals that come with it. We see the bonds shaped by shared life experiences, similar backgrounds for a group of teens all sent here by their parents, widen as they relate to this collectively traumatic event in different ways. Using this event as a backdrop for one girl’s same sex attraction discovery, and another’s lack of observation to her experience never trivializes it, but instead shows how disorienting this all can be on the same level as the collective grief. It’s realistic to see how slowly this attraction is understood, and how sometimes as we grow up we learn that we want different things, and the way society both shames and allows us to be forgiven is different for all of us, and we learn that as we grow up. Tahara is special for showing this shared experience, and how we drift apart and come together as we grow up, and its depiction of a teenage girl’s discovery of her interest in women is strikingly honest. 

Review by Sarah Williams

Bel’s rating: B+

Sarah’s rating: B+

B+ Review

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