2020 Milwaukee Film Festival: “TAHARA”
TAHARA is one of two impressive debut features at the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival the feature Rachel Sennott. SHIVA BABY is the best film I’ve seen at the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival, but TAHARA isn’t far behind.
The phrase “tahara” refers to the Jewish rites to prepare a body for burial. Carrie (Madeline Grey DeFreece) and Hannah (Rachel Sennott) are Hebrew schoolmates who are dropped off at a remembrance service for a classmate who committed suicide. They’re so close that they can communicate just through glances, amusingly subtitled for our benefit. Their true feelings are buried under cynical exteriors. And a rote “grief counseling” session isn’t helping matters. But, their friendship is going to be tested as Hannah has her eyes set on a cute male classmate and Carrie is coming to terms with her burgeoning attraction to females. Including her best friend Hannah.
It’s an impressive debut for Olivia Peace who utilizes a tight vertical frame reminiscent of a camera phone held upright. That tight frame pushes the characters closer together and is very intimate. And it’s a frame that represents the confinement of these characters within their religion and traditions. Olivia Peace breaks that aspect ratio at key moments and utilizes animation as a method of transporting the characters through various emotional states. The choices are both intimate and cinematic.
TAHARA has a lot on its mind. There’s a coming out story at the center, but there’s also a view into Jewish tradition, cliques, teenage lust, and teenage self-absorption. Rachel Sennott does a lot of the heavy lifting on the self-absorption part of the equation. It’s a tricky balancing act, especially as Hannah has to be both a sympathetic BFF and something of the villain of the movie, but Rachel Sennott has all the hallmarks of a rising star and she walks that tightrope. Madeline Grey DeFreece doesn’t necessarily have to pull off that balancing act, but she’s an empathetic, charismatic center of the film and more than holds her own.
TAHARA is an ambitious little picture and one of the highlights of the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival. If you’re looking for a final film to fill out the festival before it’s over, TAHARA has my recommendation.
TAHARA is streaming throughout the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival which runs from October 15 to 29, 2020. Tickets to individual films and passes to the festival as a whole can be purchased via Milwaukee Film.