USA: A thriller where the stakes are high and very, very real.
TIFF Docs programmer Thom Powers calls One of Us a “documentary thriller” in programme notes for the film. The description couldn’t be more appropriate. This suspenseful, gripping, and incendiary film by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Detropia, Jesus Camp) pulses with urgency as it chronicles the plight of three New Yorkers. The trio of subjects are individuals trying to extricate themselves from the suffocating insularity of the city’s Hasidic community. The need to escape is immediately palpable in this riveting film that is shot and paced to convey the tensions of a Hollywood white-knuckler, but the suspense can be overwhelming when realizes that the stakes are real.
Etty, a woman in her early thirties, describes being married at the age of 19 for a life that stripped her of opportunities and agency. She describes a repressed life spent birthing child after child, essentially serving little function other than being a uterus as she delivered her seventh baby before she was 30. Etty loves her children, though, and the interviews that Grady and Ewing get with the subject show an earnest and anxious desire to
save her children from the life she knows awaits them if she raises them under Hasidism.
Luzer, an actor in his late 20s, tells about leaving his wife and children to pursue his dream of being an actor. When movies and television aren’t permitted in Hasidism, his flight reveals the extent to which people live double lives and assume the burden of acting out their desires in secret for fear of being caught. The film shows seven years’ worth of footage of Luzer documenting his path to a free life as a creative, cornering the market for Jewish and Hasidic characters after discovering the wonders of the Internet. (As a side note of Twersky’s success, his work as an actor includes the Canadian drama Felix & Meira, which won Best Canadian Feature at TIFF and was our 2015 Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film.)
Ari, 18, is a victim of sexual abuse. He struggles with addiction by consequence and seeks rehabilitation, which includes saving himself from the lifestyle he uses drugs to escape. His childhood trauma speaks to the deeply rooted institutional conservatism in Hasidism since his abuse at summer camp is overlooked by elders with paltry excuses (“He fell on you!”) that perpetuate the status quo.
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