Gold Star

By Paul Frankl | Drama
A young Jewish girl gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a non-Jewish boy.

Eighteen-year-old Joanna attends her religious school by day; at night she’s a lot like any other British teenager, hanging out with friends and going to parties.

But after a one-night stand, Joanna gets pregnant and is unsure of what to do. Feeling unable to turn to her mother, she secretly turns to the Orthodox Judaism of an earlier generation in her family, as she looks for a way to regain control over her life and help her decide what to do about her unborn child.

Written and directed by Paul Frankl, this restrained, elegant and absorbing short drama examines the relationship between faith, belonging and the longing for solidity and certainty, told with compassion and intelligence through the prism of a young woman’s life-changing crisis.

In many ways, the storytelling is spare, focusing on images and moments that encapsulate Joanna’s inner experience. The sound of music at a party, the knowing looks between two people attracted to each other, the first kiss: these build up to a small portrait of teenage rebellion and freedom, told with great economy, precision and beautifully moody naturalistic cinematography.

Much of Joanna’s journey is internal, but the pared-down poeticism of the filmmaking captures the indelible emotions that Joanna feels. A quietly devastating scene with her mother reveals how Joanna’s mom chose to eschew the Orthodox Judaism of her parents for a more modern life, but the price of freedom has left her young daughter unmoored when faced with a personal crisis.

Actor Rosanna Francona beautifully captures the overwhelming nature of the difficult decision Joanna must make, as well as the touching comfort she finds in Orthodox Judaism. In the midst of a personal maelstrom, faith gives her assurance, a non-judgmental ear and guidance. It also leads her to an unexpected choice that will change her life forever.

“Gold Star” succeeds on the level of storytelling and craft, but it is singular in how it patiently and compassionately portrays the appeal of religion and faith. For Joanna, it offers refuge from the uncertainties of the world and an ethos and morality that helps her grapple with some of the most momentous dilemmas that people face. The storytelling does not underestimate the allure of such emotional and spiritual solidity, especially in a world that is so uncertain.

In the morass of modern life, religion offers Joanna a thread to follow out of a winding, confusing maze. Where it will lead Joanna, we do not know — but we understand her relief in finding it and her willingness to be guided by it when she needs support the most.

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