Sundance Review: ‘Between The Temples’

Jason Schwartzman And Carol Kane Have Blazing Chemistry In Nathan Silver's Surreal Jewish Comedy

Jason Schwartzman is known for playing awkward sad sack characters trying to get their shit together. His breakout role in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore is a great example of this. He’s now starring in indie filmmaker Nathan Silver’s latest called Between the Temples which premiered at Sundance earlier this month. 

Schwartzman plays Ben, a cantor at an Upstate New York Synagogue still reeling from the death of his wife. His mothers (Caroline Aaron and Dolly De Leon) are hellbent on fixing him up with another Jewish woman, despite his clear aversion to it. His recent troubles leave him unable to sing, a pivotal part of his job. He is still able to mentor young people in his congregation through the bat and bar mitzvah studies. 

It’s during one of those classes that he re-meets Carla Kessler (Carol Kane), his elementary school music teacher. Because she never received one fifty-plus years ago, she insists that he help through the bat mitzvah process. As the two get closer, experiment with drugs and learn the Torah together, things get more complicated as other influences start to shake Ben’s life and newfound purpose. 

Silver brings a lo-fi, raw, surrealist quality to his films, and Between the Temples is no exception. He finds the humor in flawed and unlikeable characters, creating farce in a cacophony of voices. I don’t think everything about his latest film works as well as he thinks it does and because of its surrealist presentation, messages and meanings get lost. 

Jason Schwartzman feels like the actor to star in a Nathan Silver production. There is a melancholy to his eyes, a jadedness to his tone, and a vulnerable openness about him that makes him the perfect conduit for this story. When he is by himself the character can get frustrating, but add in Carol Kane, and it’s a match made in comedy heaven. 

Kane brings a sweet, eager curiosity to her dynamic with Schwartzman. Together, they bounce through Silver’s script and bring out the best in their characters and their performances. As they grow together, people like Karla’s son, Ben’s Rabbai, and his daughter, Dolly De Leon’s character, all try knowingly or unknowingly to keep them apart. 

Shot on 16mm, there’s a wonderful grounded nature to Silver’s visual aesthetic. This contrasts nicely with his script. While Between the Temples isn’t for everyone, those who get it won’t be able to look away from it.

'Between the Temples'
Cortland Jacoby
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
sundance-review-between-the-templesJason Schwartzman and Carol Kane are at the heart of Nathan Silver's surreal, slightly frustrating 'Between the Temples'.