Wednesday, April 15, 1998

'Rubies' reflects an age-old conflict

Movie: A Price Above Rubies

Posted on Wed, Apr 15, 1998 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 3.50

Writer-director Boaz Yakin's second film, "A Price Above Rubies," is a clear-eyed fable about what happens when the needs of an individual clash with the expectations of a community.

Sonia (Renée Zellweger) has everything her parents wished for her: she's married to a promising scholar, Mendel (Glenn Fitzgerald), has a new baby son and has moved to a thriving Hasidic Jewish enclave in Brooklyn. But Sonia suffers from a malaise she can't quite grasp, which manifests itself as a heightened sexual awareness. (She describes it as an implacable fire that threatens to engulf her.) The occasions where she should be joyous, such as her son's bris (circumcision ceremony), instead cause her extreme anxiety.

Mendel's sister Rachel (Julianna Margulies), the fierce defender -- sometimes enforcer -- of their faith, tries to provide guidance, but it's Mendel's brother Sender (the remarkable Christopher Eccleston) who becomes the key to Sonia's burgeoning self-awareness. The forceful, even brutal, Sender initiates an affair with Sonia and then provides her link to the outside world. He sees that Sonia, the daughter of a skilled jeweler, could run his very exclusive jewelry store, picking out a few exquisite pieces for an elite clientele.

Through her job, she meets Puerto Rican sculptor-jeweler Ramon (Allen Payne), whose work reanimates her belief that beauty can exist outside the specific manifestation of God, making her connection to the Hasidim precarious.

Not afraid to mix in fantasy elements to reflect Sonia's emotional turmoil, Yakin casually utilizes two apparitions: Sonia's beloved young brother, Yossi, and a defiant beggar woman who embraces transgression.

Cinematographer Adam Holender (who shot "Fresh," Yakin's debut, as well as seminal films such as "Midnight Cowboy") employs a beautifully rich palette which complements the emotional complexity of "A Price Above Rubies."

Boaz Yakin has eschewed the guided-tour approach to an exotic culture (employed by films such as "Witness" and "A Stranger Among Us"), instead taking a more difficult and rewarding path. He looks into a closed world and sees a reflection of the age-old conflict between the needs of one vs. the needs of many.


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