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This four-part drama is a surprising and moving thriller about an unhappily married young Hasidic woman, Etsy Shapiro (Shira Haas), who dares to flee the coop of her suffocating life and marriage in an ultra-orthodox Brooklyn community. Based on the true story and book by Deborah Feldman, Unorthodox, the show is produced by Anna Winger—who also produced Deutschland ’83.
Set in contemporary Brooklyn and Berlin, we see the daily control Etsy is subjected to as soon as she has become a wife at 19. A dreamy, passionate woman with a love of music, Etsy is a fish out of water in her ultra conservative religious community, constantly harangued by the elder women for not having produced a baby after a mere year of marriage.
The show provides a rare glimpse at the strict traditions and expectations of members of this community, particularly for women, although young men are also controlled and have comparable, joyless existences enforced on them.
Etsy’s mother fled the same community for Germany, abandoning Etsy as a small girl to her alcoholic father. Both mother and daughter are passionate about music and in Berlin, music is what gives Etsy’s life meaning and a lifeline. Making friends with a group of musicians in the city to which she has fled, she applies to a conservancy and commits to studying voice. After all the silence and obedience she has been subjected to, it is a joy to see her literally find and use her voice.
There’s an undercurrent of fear as her husband, Yanky (Ahmet Rahav), arrives in Berlin with an enforcer to try to bring her back. Despite the misogyny and control from within their community, the viewer does feel some sympathy for Yanky, who promises to change as he begs her to come home.
Compassion and excitement. Many of the community members live under arbitrary and ancient laws and woe betide anyone who rebels. It took huge courage for a young woman to defy her community and break out, and Unorthodox movingly captures the risk and the pain she endures.
The series is self-contained and there is no word on a second season so far, even though there’s a bit of a cliffhanger when this limited series ends.