Parents are naturally inclined to protect their children from harm, whether in the form of germs, electric shock, choking, bullies, or even something as esoteric as corrupting ideas. This impulse reaches its extreme in orthodox religious communities, where kids are shielded as much as possible from anything that might test their faith. In one key scene in David Volach's debut film, My Father My Lord, a Jerusalem-dwelling Haredic rabbi orders his young son to tear up a picture of an African tribal ceremony because it represents "idolatry." He isn't worried that his son is worshipping the picture; he just doesn't want the boy to romanticize what other people believe.
Volach grew up Haredic before breaking away in his 20s, so My Father My Lord is filled with details about what it's like to be a doubter among the devout. Some of those details are mundane, like the way the boy (played with a rounded sweetness by Ilan Griff) gets distracted by light fixtures and chirping birds during lessons. Some are more profound, like the way a discussion with his father (played by Assi Dayan) about whether animals have souls gets converted into a lecture the rabbi gives his students. My Father My Lord is short, quiet, and shot in a style that favors closeness and intimacy, yet Volach is able to convey in small strokes how a few rooms and buildings can become a child's whole universe.
My Father My Lord stumbles a bit when Volach attempts to go broad, encompassing matters of life and death—along with a heavy-handed Abraham-and-Isaac metaphor—though even when Volach is twisting the plot, he keeps shifting between God's-eye views of his characters and close-up studies of their worried faces, holding the focus on people more than what their plight might represent. The question Volach seems to be asking is whether blind faith is enough to make up a life, and it's a question that resonates most when it plays out in the contrast between a society where God is at the center of everything, and the face of one little boy who can't stop thinking about his family's next trip to the beach.