Nathan Silver’s Between the Temples

Jason Schwartzman and Carol Kane in Nathan Silver’s Between the Temples (2024)

In 2019, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody called Nathan Silver “one of the most original American independent filmmakers working today,” adding that “he displays a seemingly casual yet cannily self-conscious approach to dramatic construction.” In Between the Temples, Silver’s ninth feature and first to be invited to Sundance, Jason Schwartzman plays Ben, a cantor in upstate New York who has lost his voice and—still mourning the loss of his alcoholic novelist wife to a freak accident—his will to live as well.

While his two mothers (Caroline Aaron and Dolly De Leon) scramble to revive his spirits by setting him up with a nice Jewish girl—the daughter (Madeline Weinstein) of the local rabbi (Robert Smigel), for example—Ben happens to meet his grade-school music teacher. Carla is a widow who has decided to fulfill a lifelong dream, to finally have the bat mitzvah denied to her all those many years ago because her parents were communists. And she wants Ben to give her private lessons. And she’s played by Carol Kane.

Between the Temples, cowritten with C. Mason Wells, is “a movie that constantly trots out the oldest Jewish jokes and stereotypes only to warp them beyond recognition,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. For Ty Burr, the film “plays like a lost Philip Roth novella. It’s also a love letter to Carol Kane, who makes her role something quite more than a manic pixie dream yenta.” Schwartzman “approaches middle-age sad sack territory while retaining his nervous poise and slightly quavering voice,” writes Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov. “He’s a performer I automatically/reflexively find funny and who plays wonderfully opposite Kane as a retirement-age chaos agent.”

“It’s easy to predict what will happen narratively in Between the Temples,” writes Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri, “but it’s not nearly as easy to predict what these characters will actually do, what they’ll say, and how they’ll act. And there is a difference: In most movies, behavior reveals psychology or moves a tale along. But Silver seems to be fascinated in behavior as behavior. We get the sense that Silver would be perfectly happy just sitting there and watching these people forever, story and conflict and resolution be damned.”

In Variety, Guy Lodge finds “a sweetness here to Silver’s typically jaundiced humor, an affectionately gilded frame around his broken-off character portraiture, that feels both new and entirely natural to his work.” Lodge notes, too, that Sean Price Williams’s “handheld lensing and John Magary’s editing are both antsy in all the right ways, mirroring the characters’ restlessness, their nervousness, and their occasional, ill-planned, briefly glorious lunges at rebellion, moral and spiritual naysayers be damned.

“With the use of grainy 16 mm, incorporating iris and split-diopters shots,” writes Jordan Raup at the Film Stage, “Williams’s cinematography lends a personality as strong as these leads, exuding the feel of a gritty 1970s character study even more than the likes of Alexander Payne’s latest.” In the Hollywood Reporter, Jourdain Searles observes that in “one memorable scene, Ben watches a video from his own bar mitzvah and hallucinates an interaction with his young self. The beautiful weirdness of that scene transforms the film and his performance into something deeply, gorgeously strange.”

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