FilmInk reviews two of the fascinating features playing as part of the upcoming AICE Israeli Film Festival.
Director: Jonathan Sagall
Cast: Clara Khoury, Nataly Attiya, Daniel Caltagirone
Running Time: 90 minutes
How do you respond to the eruption of a past trouble when you are making such a success of maintaining a calm surface in your new life? This is one of the key themes in Canadian-Israeli director Jonathan Sagall’s intriguing psychological drama which will be playing as part of the AICE Israeli Film Festival.
The film is not quite a two-hander but its emotional core is in the relationship between the two female leads. We open with Lara (Clara Khoury) confessing with some throwaway irony that, “This is my life. I might as well live it, no questions asked.”Of course the very fact that she says this with such an air of resignation suggests precisely the opposite; that she still feels she should have gone out and lived a more self-directed life. Now she just gets tipsy and tries not to think about it all. She is certainly not happy with her smooth and philandering husband, and their big posh London house and accompanying lifestyle is now her gilded cage.
Into this unsatisfactory situation steps the freewheeling and unsettling Inam (Nataly Attiya), Lara’s childhood Palestinian friend who seems to have agendas of her own. Several revealing flashbacks show us decisive moments when the two friends were growing up together in Jerusalem. Inam was always the more adventurous of the two. For example, she openly flirted with two young Israeli soldiers when she and Lara were out after curfew. This incident is re-visited by the film more than once and, like Kurosawa’s famous device in Rashomon, the filmmaker shows us that even the agreed ‘facts’ can be construed quite differently by the participants. Whatever happened back in that time has bound the two women together forever and, as noted, has given the wild and needy Inam a slightly sinister hold over Lara. In the contemporary London scenes, there is also an erotic edge to their friendship suffused as it is with a sense of power-playing and cruelty.
Sagall wants to weave several themes over the top of one another, and the tone of the piece deliberately slides between psychological thriller and a coming of age drama amongst other genre elements. Some of the scenes look a little perfunctory but, taken as whole, the film gets better as it goes on. The lead actors both produce good moments and the scenes that work best are those where they explore their needy interdependence. That aspect of the film is both haunting and memorable.
Director: Ami Drozd
Cast: Jakub Wroblewski, Lukasz Sikora, Alejsandra Poplawoska
Running Time: 97 minutes
The anti-Semitic Jew is an old conundrum, but it is given a novel and moving twist in this tale of two Polish boys and their single mother. The younger of the two boys, Tadek (Jakub Wroblewski), is about eleven. He can be forgiven for his racist errors in one sense. He is young, he hasn’t been told he is Jewish and he is not even circumcised. All this matters a lot in Poland in the 1960s. Anti-Semitism is still a real problem and young gangs of thugs are still roaming the streets and attacking schools and synagogues. Tadek looks up to his older brother, Andrei (Lukasz Sikora), and willingly tags along when the boys go on the rampage. He even does a spot of Jew-bashing of his own. The boys are not sufficiently supervised by their mother Halina (Polish TV actress Alejsandra Poplawoska). She is good looking and a free spirit who seems happy in Poland, but she is of course horrified when she realises how far her boys have been led astray. She organises for them to immigrate to the relatively-young Jewish state. Young Tadek thinks they are going to Australia and is fixated on the idea of seeing a real live boxing kangaroo. When he realises that he has been tricked by both his mum and by Andrei, he takes it very badly. In the last half of the film we follow the different adaptation strategies of the mother and the two boys.
Films like this sink or swim mostly on the strength of the child performances. Relatively new director Ami Drozd (who also wrote the screenplay) is fully aware of this dimension, and coaxes believable and moving performances from both the surly and never-fully-converted Andrei and his younger brother. Jakub Wroblewski as Tadek is a real find. He has just the right combination of confused anger and sweetness underneath to make us follow his story. Some elements are skimmed – the contradictions of life in the kibbutz for example are mostly glossed over – but the film still succeeds as a whole. In the end it is a life-affirming story of a complex journey towards a new identity.
The AICE Israeli Film Festival runs in Sydney (August 15-26), Melbourne (August 28-September 9), Brisbane (August 29-September 5), Adelaide (September 5-9) and Perth (September 4-12). Find out venue and event information here.