Arranged (2007)

Directors: Diane Crespo and Stefan Schaefer

“Someone should be shooting a commercial for world peace,” fourth grade teacher Nasira Khaldi (Francis Benhamou) jokes to her coworker turned friend Rochel Meshenberg (Zoe Lister-Jones) when the two women bump into one another in a New York park and encourage their younger relatives to play together.

It’s a recurring joke throughout the inviting, original and warmhearted American independent film Arranged that focuses on two young women in their early twenties who, despite their religious differences as a Muslim (Nasira) and an Orthodox Jew (Rochel), are both dealing with similar issues of parental pressure and familial obligation in the quest to marry the two teachers off.

In Rochel's case, this tradition calls for utilizing the talents of a matchmaker who pitches men to her client as if she’s selling automobiles by evaluating their job performance, sustainability and prominence. However for Nasira, it’s a bit more laid back as their father invites over a much older family friend in the hopes that his young daughter will find love with an uncouth gentleman prone to chatting animatedly with food in his mouth.

Meanwhile Rochel contends with a series of disastrous matchups including a painfully awkward first encounter with a man who acts as though he’d rather voluntarily show up for a root canal than a date, along with one man who lets himself into the place and proceeds to snoop through everything while running at the mouth his own sales pitch covering his accomplishments.

Both targets from their female principal who, in trying to compliment their beauty patronizes their beliefs by offering them money to go out and buy designer clothes and have a drink to start taking advantage of the women’s movement, the two modestly dressed new teachers sit singularly at tables away from the more daring and cliquish women their age at the school.

However, the film's leads really hit it off when children question whether or not they hate one another because of what they’ve heard on the news.

In offering the students a unity circle exercise, Rochel and Nasira conduct their own diversity celebration that seems to be far more accessible than the perfunctory district mandated training shown at the start of the film. Sure enough as the women begin spending more time together away from work, they realize they have far more in common than they first assumed.

Touchingly authentic and believably executed, directors Diane Crespo and Stefan Schaefer’s appealing film was a hit in the film festival circuit.

An official selection at the South by Southwest Film Festival and the Miami Jewish Film Festival, Arranged earned the audience award at Berkshire International Film Festival as well as the Grand Chameleon Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2007 Brooklyn International Film Festival before making its way to DVD from our friends at Film Movement.