Set in the Orthodox Jewish community of north London, Song Of Songs has brother and sister David (Joel Chalfen) and Ruth (Natalie Press) wrestling with their forbidden desire for each other while trying to live by the laws of the Torah. Some serious theological symbolism provides intellectual rigour. But the drama itself in Josh Appignanesi's debut is flimsy, a weak concoction of family affairs and social exclusion. Plenty of brain food but little for the soul.
Painting it as a Semitic version of Andrew Birkin's 1993 incest drama The Cement Garden might be convenient but the ingredients are all there, including the invalid mother hovering at death's door while her children get frisky downstairs. Undoubtedly one to watch in the future, Press once again flexes her impressive acting muscles with a precisely timed performance of frustration and sexual awakening. Chalfen, meanwhile, relishes David's sadistic nature but strays into hammy waters when the script becomes too didactic.
"A LACK OF CONTEXT"
What this lacks is a sense of context so that while the family's present situation is all too apparent, there's little sense of how they got there. A couple of dream-like flashbacks aren't enough to build a proper picture and Appignanesi is so focussed on religious parables that he neglects to give David and Ruth the motivations they deserve. This isn't helped by the camera which hovers over their respective shoulders so their faces (and their emotions) are often hidden from view. Those who prefer their incest with a little more passion might find this rather too chaste for their liking.