Or begins with the promise of redemption, as an Israeli teenage girl, Or, finds her mother, Ruthie, a job cleaning a wealthy woman’s house that will allow her to stop prostituting herself. But as Or spends her days collecting cans along Tel Aviv beaches, and washing dishes in a restaurant, and Ruthie folds laundry and feeds dogs for shekels a day, Or shows that escape from prostitution is a Sisyphean struggle against poverty. The choice here is either to lead a life of servitude, or remain a slave to the body, and both women, devastatingly, choose the latter.
What makes this film as remarkable as it is tragic is Keren Yedaya’s ability to depict the story so humanly, while still revealing feminist and class issues. The film has a classic, Chekhovian narrative arc, and Yedaya reveals a gift for brutal realism without heavy handedness. There are many tender moments between Or and Ruthie, and between them and a few men who love them but cannot save them. Aesthetically, Or is beautifully bare, using still sequence shots that give us time to observe these women, to see their ugly flaws, as well as their beauty, to fall in love and to shake our heads. The sad outcome they share feels undeniably true, given the narrative’s inevitable regression. In its raw simplicity, Or is a masterpiece.