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About a Goy

Attachment-movie-review-ellie-kendrick-josephine-park
Søren Kirkegaard

MOVIE REVIEW
Attachment (2022)

Incongruous openings win immediate bonus points, and “Attachment” starts with a chance encounter between an elf princess and a mysterious commoner who perhaps has a curse on her while an uptempo synth beat bounces on the soundtrack, as if the film was about to be the hit meet-cute queer comedy of 1985. Since the setting is clearly a library in present-day Denmark and the elf princess is an actor in costume recreating her TV character for some kids who are bored horizontal, the hidden layers of the set-up are left for you to register later, while “Attachment” skips deftly on into a serious supernatural drama about religion and tradition, lesbian love and culture clash.

The religion in question is Judaism, it being the heritage of the English-speaking Leah (Ellie Kendrick), whom Danish actor Maja (Josephine Park) falls for pretty much at first sight. Leah is dark, reserved, and peering out from a mane of curls says her London-based family is ultra-Orthodox but understanding about her sexual preference. Maja is blonde and seems to have a tougher hide, but looks at Leah with the fragile hopes of someone whose love life might have just emerged from under a cloud. Their relationship is sweet and matter-of-fact, unfreighted by cinematic hammer blows about social concerns, just two normal lovers working out how they feel. Or maybe just one of them is normal: mysterious medical problems compel Leah to return to London and the home of her sternly devout mother Chana (Sophie Gråbøl). Maja accompanies her, an outsider in several different ways among the Hasidic community of Hackney as hints of supernatural peril surrounding Leah mount up.

Calling “Attachment” a horror film is going too far, since there’s minimal blood and only a few practical special effects, and the mystical forces at work in the plot are spoken of in menacing tones more often than they manifest themselves. (There might also be limited budgetary resources at work; the plot relocates back to Denmark in a particularly abrupt pivot.) It’s closer to a ghost story, writer/director Gabriel Bier Gislason building up the atmospherics as Maja wonders about the supernatural tchotchkes secreted around Chana’s house, and the Hackney drizzle falls on Hasidim and goyim alike. Leah’s uncle Lev (David Dencik) suspects something is up, asking Maja darkly if she knows about golems and the secrets of the Kabbalah. (“The Madonna thing,” nods Maja as Lev gazes at her in wonder.)

Subtexts of several kinds percolate without dominating; about the limits of parental acceptance and assimilation, and about the multiple different directions in which Leah is pulled. Some combination of the break from her family’s Jewish roots, her girlfriend’s nonpracticing but blazingly blonde Lutheran heritage and her own sexuality combine to awaken a dybbuk to torment her. Scholars of dybbuk cinema feared the category extinct after David S. Goyer’s stratospherically trashy “The Unborn” back in 2009, in which Rabbi Gary Oldman exorcised one by blowing a deep flatulent honk on a mystic woodwind instrument while all the scenery fell over. “Attachment” restores the genre to a more low-key and unsettling place on the roster, and in Stamford Hill to boot.

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