Rakasa is a documentary about the lives of three Palestinian women who dance for joy, expression and sometimes money. Certain images come to mind when an American says, “I’m a dancer.” However, the dancing found in Rakasa _(Arabic for “bellydancer”) comes from an irrepressible urge to rebel, to be free, and to be wholly and utterly a _woman in a culture that would have one deny that Goddess-given gift. This form of dancing also crosses religious barriers, bringing Israeli Jews and Arabs together to dance. For this, rakasa—and the women whose lives are shared within—should be celebrated.
What’s missing from Rakasa is solid structure and clarity of purpose. It ends up coming across as a beautiful, blurry blob; Rakasa isn’t sure if it wants to be an overcoming-oppression film, or simply a celebratory slice-of-life.
One of the women fights with her mother and grandmother over her right to dance. Another tries to overcome the apathy of her lackadaisical husband. The third, whom you might call Rakasa’s heroine, enjoys an adoring husband, her own dance studio and dancing passionately while great with child.
Director Iris Rubin chose to keep the tone light in a documentary that could have easily included cultural images of brutality against women. While I applaud Rubin’s decision to focus on the joy of dancing, the film might have revved my energetic investment had it displayed images of oppression that extended beyond irritating smotherhood.
Rubin does pepper in two cultural-context references. The first comes from clips of old TV shows depicting misogynist males. The second comes from a dancer’s advisor who reminds the dancer (frustrated by her mother’s objections to dancing) that things really are improving: after all, she says, 20 years ago, they would have killed you.
“They” are not specified, but this moment might have been Rubin’s way of saving her viewers from the very images I lament being absent. Perhaps there was no middle ground with which Rubin could work, and any accurate images of brutality would have crushed all she hoped to show: women dancing joyously.
Despite its wobbly structure, _Rakasa _is a luscious journey filled with surprising and sizzling food scenes, uber-femininity and brilliant, yummy colors that is a sensorial pleasure to watch.