Slamdance 2020: Tahara

The Jewish tradition of tahara, washing/cleansing a body before burial, purifies the body and, like a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser on grime, washes away hangups regarding social status. Of course, for the living, status is still a big deal, especially if you’re a teenager.

In Tahara, former Hebrew school classmates gather in a “teen talk-back” session to examine grief through their faith after the funeral of another former classmate who committed suicide. Yet, status rules the day. Before the funeral, Hannah daydreams of impressing her crush. During the funeral, she gossips about attendees with her clearly uncomfortable bestie Carrie. After the service, Hannah continues talking smack/obsessing over Tristan and scoops out the insides of her bagel to avoid the carbs. During the talk-back, we see that Hannah is not the only one concerned with herself. While some teens seem like they “have to be there,” others draw attention by becoming over emotional about a girl they barely knew or brown-nosing to the facilitator, a former Israeli soldier. During breaks from the talk-back, students are most honest with one another, and we learn who actually has interacted with Samantha and how they view her death. But, primarily, we see Hannah and Carrie’s relationship take a new path when Hannah asks Carrie to help her practice kissing and later attempts to use her faithful friend for her own benefit.

Tahara takes a look at popularity, faith, death, selfishness and lust through the eyes of teens. Stop motion scenes interspersed throughout the film help express those ideas. 

Working with a poignant and savvy script, leads Rachel Sennott and Madeline Grey DeFreece are earning their chops. While the film isn’t perfect, and some situations feel less like they would actually play out in reality than others, it’s an interesting look at a friendship that morphs into something else. Themes in Tahara honestly could have played out in any setting where teens convene Catholic school, a student club, summer camp but it seems director Olivia Peace and/or screenwriter Jess Zeidman may know a few things about what it was like being a self-conscious Hebrew school grad.

Read more of our Slamdance and Sundance coverage.

Jaime Winston
Jaime Winston
Jaime is a contributing writer for Salt Lake magazine. Formerly, he served as our editorial intern, then as our assistant web editor, and, finally, as our web editor. Now, he works full time at Weber State University, where he talks to ducks and people think he's crazy. While he covers may different topics, he is especially interested in nerdy entertainment, from artist alley at FanX to Sundance's Midnight screenings.

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