REVIEW: ‘Black Notebooks: Ronit’ Captures A Brother’s Grief And A Star’s Final Performance

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Black Notebooks: Ronit - But Why Tho

Black Notebooks: Ronit (Cahiers Noirs) is a documentary by Shlomi Elkabetz with additional script-writing by Joelle Alexis about the final days of filming and premiering his award-winning film Gett while his sister, co-director, and star Ronit Elkabetz began dying of cancer. It’s a film that doesn’t require you to know anything about its subjects to feel the utter loss and unmooring Shlmi has experienced since losing his sister.

If you don’t know anything about Gett, it’s a renowned film from 2014, the third in a series about a woman who seeks a divorce from her husband. In traditional Jewish practice and, by extension, the legal system of Israel, where the film takes place, a divorce can only be granted to Ronit’s character if her husband allows it and if a panel of rabbinic judges allows it at once. It’s a grueling, cruel process that takes years and sees little hope, making for a dismal and emotional film. Having both of these contexts in advance may help a viewer of the documentary better understand exactly what is going on during the first half when most of Black Notebooks: Ronit is comprised of behind-the-scenes footage from the film’s most emotional filming moments; however, it’s not strictly necessary in order to gather the scope of what is going on.

Because really, this isn’t a behind-the-scenes documentary. It’s a parallelism between the terrible strife Ronit’s character was experiencing on-screen and the struggle she was enduring off it. They’re completely different struggles, to be clear. But in so many ways, Ronit’s character, being trapped in a horrible marriage due to a horrible system within which she has no control whatsoever, feels painfully apt to be viewed alongside a horrible sickness trapping her body inside a horrible reality that she has absolutely no control over either.

The documentary does run on a bit too long for me, falling into a category of editing I empathize with, where the subject is tragically close to the creator; therefore, the creator wants to spend every extra moment lingering with their departed loved one that they can on-film. But my empathy aside, with an hour-and-a-half run-time, it does come to feel repetitive rather quickly. The continuous footage is only broken up by the occasional narration by Shlomi or the few titles that are supposed to indicate different phases of Ronit’s illness. They do well to reflect the very French-cinematic feeling they’re imitating—which is surely meant to reflect Ronit’s famed career in French cinema and their shared Frankophelia. But they feel arbitrary nonetheless. The moments they mark do feel demarcated, but only because a piece of bold text said it should. I think the titles could have been placed anywhere with the same effect or not used, and Black Notebooks: Ronit would have been no worse off for it.

The absolute true star of the whole affair, though, is the score. It is one of the most dramatically intense scores I can recall in a documentary. It feels ripped straight out of Gett itself and is used to create suspense and tension throughout the whole documentary. Again, this calls to mind the tragedy of Ronit’s character as you watch her endure her own real injustice. The score itself is strong, imbued with a familiar “Jewish” sound while also feeling quite universally cinematic. It completely carries the film.

Black Notebooks: Ronit is either an intimate portrait of a brother’s grief or a behind-the-scenes look into the work and lives of Ronit and Shlomi Elkebetz. Whichever way you come into viewing the film, you’ll come out of it emotional and moved.

Black Notebooks: Ronit is playing now in select theaters.


Black Notebooks: Ronit
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Black Notebooks: Ronit is either an intimate portrait of a brother’s grief or a behind-the-scenes look into the work and lives of Ronit and Shlomi Elkebetz. Whichever way you come into viewing the film, you’ll come out of it emotional and moved.

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