"The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know," says producer-director Steven E. Bram of the ancient mystical philosophy at the center of his documentary "Kabbalah Me."
Unfortunately, viewers may feel the same — and not in an inspiring way — after watching this elusive film, which tracks the filmmaker's spiritual reawakening following a kind of midlife crisis of faith.
After an entire journey, in which sports documentarian Bram tours Orthodox Jewish communities in Manhattan and Brooklyn and later Israel to unravel the mysteries of kabbalah — and to find his own personal place amid it all — we're left with little concrete understanding of this esoteric, Judaic-rooted discipline. That such celebrities as Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow have embraced it remains more of a topical touchstone than most anything else presented here.
Bram, who also narrates (and writes, with co-director Judah Lazarus and Adam Zucker), may be earnest in his desire for enlightenment. But his approach feels overly self-serving; too much "Me," not enough "Kabbalah." Perhaps the filmmaker should have spent more time behind the camera instead of front and center, as he observes a host of Jewish rituals and traditions and chats with rabbis, congregants, scholars and devout members of his extended family.
Bram also could have asked tougher, more specific questions of the featured kabbalists. Most of their responses or attempted explanations about the subject may prove far too airy-fairy or amorphous to satisfy the skeptical or empirically inclined.
As for Bram's patient wife, Miriam, who supports her husband's new religious fervency but resists jumping into the proverbial mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) herself, her story seems incomplete.
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times