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The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch Movie Poster Image
Comedy about Orthodox Jewish man; cursing, sex, drugs.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The familiar is comforting but the unfamiliar can be exciting. When one door closes another opens. No one knows what's going to happen.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Like many young people from strict families that expect marriage within their group, Motti rebels against his parents deciding who he spends the rest of his life with. As he rebels he experiences conflict. 

Violence

A mother comically points a knife at her son when he threatens to have a relationship with someone outside their religion.

Sex

Briefly, an enthusiastic wife is seen (no nudity) having sex atop her less-than-involved husband.  A man has sex with two different women on two occasions, again with no nudity. A pushy mother pulls open her son's shower curtain to thrust the telephone in his face. His hands cover his genitals.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "slut," "scum," "shiksa" (Yiddish epithet for a non-Jewish girl), "faygele" (a Yiddish epithet for a gay man),"crap," "toches" (Yiddish for "butt"), and "dreck" (Yiddish for "poop"). 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Motti drinks enough alcohol to have a hangover. Adults smoke cigarettes and marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch is a comedy -- in the vein of My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- in which parents want their child to adhere to the life (in this case an Orthodox Jewish life) set out for him. The movie is in Yiddish and German with English subtitles. There are stereotypes about guilt-inflicting mothers. Brief sex scenes illustrate a young man's sexual awakening, but without nudity. Adults smoke cigarettes, smoke joints, and drink alcohol, in some cases to excess. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "slut," in addition to some Yiddish curse words.

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What's the story?

The AWAKENING OF MOTTI WOLKENBRUCH tells a familiar story of a child trying to break from family, cultural, and religious expectations to marry within the group. In this case, the setting is an Orthodox Jewish community in Switzerland. College student Motti (Joel Basman) is the Wolkenbruch's youngest son -- his older siblings are all married. He's stubbornly turning down every "shidduch" (arranged match) the family sets up with nice Jewish girls from nice Jewish families. To his mother's outrage, he insists on feeling a "spark" with the woman he's expected to marry. He worries that in his early twenties, when Orthodox Jews dictate their children marry and start families, that his life will be over before it begins. Then he falls hard for the beautiful Laura (Noemie Schmidt), a "shiksa" (non-Jewish girl) in his economics class. Improbably, she sets out, almost as a lark, to show him her non-Orthodox world, starting with the dance bar she waitresses in, and including drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and having sex outside of marriage. In a panic, Motti's parents send him to Israel to find a girl there, but instead he's seduced by a free-spirited Israeli girl. When his parents find out, he's shipped home, an act that sends him into the arms of Laura. Motti is kicked out of the house, putting a strain on the relationship with Laura. Whether Motti will separate from his family or stay within the fold is left undetermined.

Is it any good?

This movie relies on an endearing performance by Basman as Motti, the Jewish boy who doesn't want to say yes to the life set out for him by his religion and community. Viewers unfamiliar with specific Orthodox practices and Yiddishisms will nevertheless be able to relate. Just substitute for the institutional isolation of this Orthodox community equally separatist practices of other groups -- Muslims, Hindus, Mormons and other Christian sects. The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch seems to argue in favor of finding one's own path rather than simply rejecting heritage for no good reason.

On the minus side, the director fails to get past stereotypes of comically-overbearing Jewish mothers. Motti's mother (Inge Maux) actually hides in the bushes to spy on his meeting with an approved "nice Jewish girl." Mom also faints dramatically at the news that her son loves a shiksa, then she regains her strength sufficiently to heave all his clothes out the door. Among the nice touches -- the one person who understands and encourages Motti's adventurousness is a dying wealthy client who reads Motti's tarot cards and approves of his exploration. Moving scenes between the two of them suggest that someone near death's door may have valuable insight into the importance of seizing opportunities as they arise rather than accepting a life laid out for you by your parents.    

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difficult moment in life when young adults question whether they want to accept and carry on traditions learned from families or look to other ways of living. Can you tell which path Motti will take at the end of The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch? What are some clues as to what he plans to do?

  • Many religions and cultures pose strict limitations regarding adult behavior. Why do you think parents and community might be upset if a child decides to marry someone outside of the religion or culture?

  • Do you think more mixing would make the world a more tolerant place, or do you think people can maintain their differences and also accept the differences of others at the same time?

Movie details

For kids who love to laugh

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