Division Ave.

By Tamar Glezerman | Drama
A Mexican cleaning lady befriends a Jewish woman who fights for her justice.

Fernanda is a young Latina mother hired to clean the apartment of a Hasidic woman in Brooklyn, to prepare it for Passover. Divides exist between the two women — there are cultural differences, as well as language gaps — and there is also a lack of trust, particularly when it comes to money.

Fernanda says she’s not being paid by Michael, the ultra-Orthodox man who gets her work in his community, but keeps coming anyway in hopes of getting what’s owed her, which she sends to her family in Mexico. Nechama pays Fernanda from her own funds to tide her over, an act of kindness that bridges the gap between the two.

The two women form an unlikely bond, especially since the housecleaning puts them in close proximity with one another. But when the two women confront Michael about the money Fernanda — and the other immigrant women who work for him — is owed, they come away with mutual respect and appreciation.

Directed by Tamar Glezerman and written by Michal Birnbaum, who also co-stars as Nechama, this intimate yet powerful short drama explores the gaps and divides between cultures, and between immigrants and the locals who hire them. It’s also a warm testament to the power of solidarity and working together, and the purpose that comes from forging a bond through a common cause.

The film is shot with a gentle yet keenly observant sense of naturalism, and — fitting for a film named after a place — Brooklyn functions as an unspoken character, with careful attention paid to the lively sights and sounds of the streets, the diversity of the crowds and the way businesses, homes and cultures nestle side by side next to one another.

But though they are neighbors, the different people that work and live alongside one another often don’t know much about one another, whether it’s through a lack of curiosity, a mistrust of outsiders or simply trying to get through the business of life in one piece. Nechama and Fernanda begin the film as two strangers in every sense of the word, and the dynamic between them is one of a local hiring an undocumented worker for hire, with a brusqueness and coolness that leaves little room for warmth. Yet as the concise, wry and empathetic writing unfolds, the two women start to see one another as fuller human beings.

Actors Michal Birnbaum and Lorena Rodriguez play Nechama and Fernanda, respectively, with great precision and subtlety, and both are able to evoke their different cultures while still playing full, idiosyncratic human beings complete with loyalties, pressures and hopes. The way the two performers play off one another and grow increasingly trusting and connected feels lovely to watch, yet realistic. There is common human decency in both of them, one that enables them to come together for a small yet powerful confrontation.

This confrontation doesn’t play out the way either woman hopes, but in “Division Ave.,” winning or getting a result isn’t the point. Instead, it’s the meeting of two very different people, from very different worlds, and the willingness of both to see one another beyond just their initial impression or socioeconomic status. The very act of them coming together and supporting one another is transformative. Friendship and solidarity are the powers they discover, in themselves and one another. Viewers get the sense that there is more to come for both of these women, beginning with this tenuous, fragile yet powerful bond — and that in one another, they’ve discovered an important ally and friend.

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