Ronnie Friedland was the founding Web Magazine Editor of InterfaithFamily.
From Passion to Despair: An Ill-Fated Interfaith Romance
A review of the film Solomon and Gaenor
Rating Scheme: 5 ***** is best, 1* is worst
Overall rating: *** Acting: **** Cinematography: **** Character Development: *** Overall Coherence of Film: ** Avoids Unnecessary Violence: **** Avoids Unnecessary Sexual Content: **** Engages and Keeps Viewer's Interest: ****
In Solomon and Gaenor, the lure of a different culture, a beautiful girl, and the chance to escape a cloistered environment and assume a new identity all lead Solomon, a young Jew who clearly lacks the wisdom of his namesake, to enter into a relationship with Gaenor, a young Welsh woman from a family of miners. Knowing that he wouldn't be accepted in the Welsh town because he was Jewish, Solomon hides his religious identity from the townspeople and from Gaenor.
The film is set In 1911 Wales, where rigid boundaries and defenses protect Solomon's Jewish and Gaenor's Protestant families from outside influences. Strong barriers exist between "them" and "us," with the "other" frequently seen as an enemy. The film takes place during a time of heightened tension, due to the harsh effects of a miners' strike. In the midst of this difficult situation, the immature young couple from two hostile camps develops a strong mutual attraction.
In the beginning of the film, we see a frustrated Solomon, played by Welsh actor Ioan Grufodd (Titanic and Wilde), who seems to have had his fill of rabbinic teachings. Consequently, he is delighted when he can escape the confines of his crowded home and take on a job as a pacman, who goes from door to door selling cloth to a nearby village. As Solomon sets out on his first job away from his Jewish community, he encounters a Welshman who asks if he is one of "those Jews." Solomon's instinct is to deny that he is Jew and to claim to be an Englishman from over the mountain. He continues this deception when a meets Gaenor, played by Nia Roberts (The Theory of Flight), to whom he is attracted.
The attraction is mutual, and a passionate relationship develops between Solomon and Gaenor. Despite knowing that Gaenor's family would reject him if they knew that he was Jewish, and that his own Jewish community would equally reject Gaenor because she was not Jewish, Solomon nevertheless pursues his attraction, while continuing to hide his identity from Gaenor and their relationship from his family. We see him asking Geanor to avert her eyes as he undresses, not because he is shy, but because he doesn't want her to see his tzitzit (prayer fringes). Eventually, Solomon begins to take off his tzitzit before he arrives at her village, hiding the garment behind some stones in a wall.
Besotted, Gaenor introduces Solomon to her family, where he continues his deception. When Solomon declines to introduce Gaenor to his family, she becomes furious, accusing him of wanting only a sexual relationship from her. Suspecting that he is ashamed of her poverty, she does some investigating, finds his home, and realizes that he is Jewish. She then understands why he hadn't introduced her to his family, but is horrified that he had not revealed his true identity to her. Despite the fact that she now realizes she is pregnant with Solomon's child, she decides that she no longer wants to see a man who has been so dishonest with her.
As her pregnancy develops Gaenor is denounced publicly in her church, where she is told that she will be shunned for being so sinful. Solomon learns of the pregnancy, however, and they make plans to run away together. That night, as he goes to fetch her, her brutish brother Crad, played by Mark Lewis Jones (Paper Mask and The Shell Seekers), leads a group of angry Welshmen to burn the Jewish village down. The miners, who are suffering from the effects of a strike, resent the relative prosperity of the Jews.
Solomon's family loses everything, and he allows himself to be sent away from Gaenor, apparently horrified that it was her brother who led the attack. He promises Gaenor, however, that he will find her before she gives birth.
Gaenor, meanwhile, goes to see Solomon's parents, telling them that she is carrying his child, their grandchild, and asking them to tell her where Solomon is. Solomon's mother replies coldly, blaming Gaenor for the pregnancy and stating that Solomon's life shouldn¹t be ruined due to Geanor's misbehavior. She utterly disavows any concern for or interest in the child, and refuses to give Solomon any messages from Gaenor.
Similarly, Gaenor's brother Crad has buried Solomon¹s letter to her, so that she never knew he had tried to reach her. Then, when Solomon returns to find her, Crad beats him up. Finally, partially frozen and near-death, Solomon arrives--wearing his prayer shawl--at the distant village where Gaenor had been sent to give birth. He marries her--under a chuppah, or Jewish wedding canopy--before the baby is born, and dies that night.
Ultimately, the unwanted baby is given away, and Gaenor returns to her village, not with her baby but with the coffin of her husband. The rigid boundaries have been preserved; the ill-fated romance could not prevail.
Solomon and Gaenor explores the difficulties of conducting an interfaith relationship against a backdrop of mutual suspicion between the couple's families. Interestingly, this film was written and directed by a psychotherapist, Paul Morrison, who has also directed other works on Jewish themes: From Bitter Earth (a documentary about drawings and paintings created in the concentration camps and ghettos of World War 11) and "A Sense of Belonging" (a TV series about the dilemmas of being both British and Jewish), as well as a film about racism, Divide and Rule Never, which won first prize at the Oberhausen Film Festival.
The film takes place nearly 100 years ago, and a great deal has changed since then. In the United States, the rate of interfaith marriage has dramatically increased, while anti-Semitism has greatly decreased--to the extent that we now have a Jewish candidate for vice president. Nevertheless, resistance to interfaith marriages continues, both within the Jewish community and outside of it. Certainly, the pressure to please disappointed parents continues to create difficulties and heartache for many interfaith couples.
The film is a shocking reminder how parents' unwillingness to accept their adult children's choices can have dire consequences. Finding the appropriate balance between adhering to values while accepting children's choices remains a challenge that many parents will have to face.