“New York, I Love You,” which opened October 16, sees Natalie Portman star as a Hasidic bride in director Mira Nair’s (“Monsoon Wedding”) short. Portman’s portrayal of Rifka, an Orthodox 20-something, is a highlight of producer Emmanuel Benbihy’s (“Paris Je T’aime”) patchwork film, made up of eleven New York based romantic vignettes.
Rifka is feisty, self confident and independent. “We don’t come to 47th Street to chit-chat,” she tells diamond seller and Gujarati Jain, Mansuhkhbai (Irrfan Khan), after traveling to midtown Manhattan to haggle prices. Yet the two enjoy a brief cross-cultural intimacy, flirting over their respective dietary restrictions, before Rifka removes her sheitel revealing her bald head, shaved in preparation for impending marriage.
After this unexpected onscreen moment Portman goes behind the camera to make her directorial debut. In a short set in Central Park she focuses on the daughter of a mixed-race couple and a case of mistaken identity amongst New York’s nanny-hiring class.
It is interesting that Nair, a non-Jewish director, looks at ethnicity and endogamy by depicting an Orthodox wedding, whilst Portman analyzes racial stereotypes not traditionally associated with Judaism. Cross-cultural intimacies, indeed.
Watch a clip from “New York, I Love You” below: