Shtisel

Stories about humanity like “Shtisel” are universally appealing

If you are someone who hates to read subtitles, the Isreali drama series “Shtisel” will completely captivate you that will end up not minding the inconvenience of reading subtitles. On the contrary, you will realise that language is not a barrier to good content because stories like “Shtisel” are universally appealing.

The series follows a Haredi family, the Shtisels, living in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem in their pursuit of love, navigating family life and religion in modern times, and confronting loss.

You will have a love-hate relationship with the family patriarch Shulem Shtisel (Dov Glickman) as he and his brother Nukhem (Sasson Gabai) continually try to outdo each other. Sometimes Shulem is downright selfish and Nuchem is a crook, but it will also warm your heart to see Shulem, a man in his sixties, seek the approval of his mischievous mother.

Much of the story revolves around Akiva, Shulem’s last child. Akiva (Michael Aloni), is a happy-lucky-go fellow who describes distances by how many sticks of cigarette he smokes while he does the distance. He seems laid but that’s not the case. He is a conflicted young man with tastes and preferences are opposed to his family’s traditions and religious beliefs. He wants a career as an artist but his family would rather he were a teacher, and with arranged marriages being among the Shtisel’s customs, everyone writes Akiva off as he cannot seem to find a match.

Meanwhile, his sister Giti deals with the challenges of her own marriage when her family goes on a business trip and does not return. Giti Weiss (Neta Riskin) who has no skills has to find work in order to raise four children including a suckling child. She relies on her oldest daughter, Ruchaimi and word must not go out about the disappearance of her husband for fear of being stigmatized – it could ruin Ruchama’s chances of marriage. But Ruchama grows into a strong character and charts her own course. Shira Haas, star of “Unorthodox” plays Ruchama and she equally embodies her role.

There other supporting characters in “Shtisel” who will steal your heart. One of them is Aliza, Shulem’s personal assistant who has eyes for him. She’s generous and considerate but a divorce, and Shulem took advantage of her good nature. Yet some other women know how to get what they want. As such female audiences will learn a thing or two about how to subtly manipulate men to dance to their tune, and their male counterparts will learn a lesson on sensitivity.

The ultra-Orthodox Jews are withdrawn from the larger society but you will come to appreciate their lifestyle because at the end of the day, it works for them. More so, you will relate with their humanity because like all of us, they are flawed with love, anger, joy, envy, greed and grief among some of the themes explored in the storytelling. And in an increasingly divisive world, stories like these matter.

The series will make you laugh and cry, and the acting is compelling. If you like stories about family steeped in tradition, you will enjoy “Shtisel.” It is streaming on Netflix.

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About the author

A lover of the arts who sees film and television through the eyes of the Nigerian viewer.