La Petite Jerusalem


by Tuna

La Petite Jerusalem is a French film about life in an orthodox Jewish suburb of Paris. The story focuses on two sisters. One of them is a philosophy student who is trying to live as an intellectual while curbing her physical desires. Her older sister is a very devout wife and mother of three. Both end up in a crisis centered around a conflict between sex and orthodox law or tradition.

Elsa Zylberstein, as the older sister Mathilde, discovers that her husband has been cheating on her. He freely admits it, but claims he did it out of respect for her, so he could take care of desires that his wife had no interest in. When Mathilde visits the Mikveh, the woman attendant, who is also an expert on religious law, informs her that she can actually touch her husband's privates, and give and receive pleasure in many different ways, as long as they lead up to intercourse.

Let's pause briefly here for a short culture lesson. Before marriage, after childbirth, and seven days after the end of her period, an orthodox woman must submerse herself in a cleansing pool of water called a Mikveh, to purify herself for sexual relations with her husband. In fact, an orthodox community is required to build a Mikveh even before a synagogue. The Mikveh is probably the origin of Christian baptism.

The younger sister is not as fortunate. Fanny Valette, as the young Laura, begins to fall in love with an Arab she meets in her job of custodian in a school. Nothing in her family situation, or in the Arab's family situation, will even consider the two being together.

When the synagogue is burned, and Mathilde's husband is beaten while trying to coach a soccer game, he decides that the family will immigrate to Israel. Laura will stay behind.

While I usually like cross-cultural films, this one moves too slowly for my taste, and presents too much detail of both philosophy and religious law. The human side is no better. Both female leads seem cool and detached, so it's difficult to care about their problems.

The film is in French, Hebrew, and Arabic with burned-in English sub-titles. The DVD is PAL format, region-free. Get info through the American importer or click on the picture below.

La Petite Jerusalem DVD aka Little Jerusalem (2005)


63 (of 100)


6.8 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. It received only a token release in the USA (five theaters) and grossed only about $50,000. The international box office was no more impressive, topping out at $400,000.



  • Elsa Zylberstein shows clear breasts and buns, and bush under water.

  • Fanny Valette shows breasts.

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a: