everything and nothing. not really sure yet.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tel Aviv University Film Evening, Everyman Hampstead

Last night (the 4th) I had the pleasure of going to the Tel Aviv University Trust's annual film evening at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead (North London). Four short films were screened, each of them made by a student at the TAU Film School. I thought I would post a short review of the films (probably for the benefit of no-one but my parents who could not make it).

The first film was called 'Questions of a Dead Worker', directed by Aya Somech. An unsettling piece, its main character (if you could call him that) was a Mizrachi construction worker who kidnaps his Ashkenazi boss in order to make a stand for social justice (and socialism) for the poorer sections of Israeli society. At the same time, a film-making couple are being shown an apartment overlooking the construction site and are discussing having to make a film of it, and a group of Arab workers are discussing a story for a film with a mizrachi worker who kidnaps his boss and - to spoil the ending - gets shot by the police. One is never quite sure what is 'real' - in the sense of reality within the film - and what is not. The fact that it is a film is never truly disguised and - although one does not actually see the crew - the Brechtian influence is clear. The film opens with a symbolic character - or rather non-character - reading 'questions of a literate worker', and the scene with the arab workers is silent to represent - in a slightly heavy-handed way - the disenfranchisement of the arab population. The scenes that are most touching, however, are those between the worker and his sick - possibly dying - father. Here, the mistreatment of the elderly in Israeli society, and the misery of poverty are starkly portrayed. These characters - and this time they are characters - break free of the political symbolism, to form 'real' people. Although there is a hint of tragedy in the worker's demise - offset slightly by the potential of it being a story within a story (within another story) - there is some hope at the end as the worker is - though doomed from the start - taking some action for himself and his father.

This idea of a generally dark story with a slightly hopeful ending - though that is possibly misplaced hope - is common through each of the four films. The second of which - perhaps the most visually arresting - is called 'Roads', directed by Lior Geller. It tells the story of a young arab boy - maybe ten years old, a drugrunner in drug-infested Lod. The neighbourhood is run by the drug gangs, and Ismayil - the boy - works for the most powerful dealer in Lod. However, when he is told to take his younger brother to a pick-up in the Jewish neighbourhood on the 'other side of the tracks' runs off with the money for the pick up (and with his brother and his brother's goat). He ropes in Daniel, a Jewish ex-soldier and addict who buys from Ismayil, to help them escape, and they find themselves hiding out in a house by the train tracks. One of the great things about the film is that you are never sure whether or not Ismayil and his brother will survive, and the ending - the last time they see the neighbourhood - has the hope of a better future for the boys, though how exactly their future will improve is not known. Daniel - who is shot and killed in helping the boys escape - has, one feels, finally managed to escape his own reality of the Lebanon war, and it seems that, in helping Ismayil, he absolves himself for the killing of a 'terrorist' who was 'about [Ismayil's] age'. The film is political in a more subtle way than 'Questions of a Dead Worker', and - considering that it is a low budget student piece - the action is quite impressive.

The third film was 'Dessert', directed by Amit Sakomski. A charming though slightly quaint film, about a bickering old couple - a man who collects stamps and a woman who bakes cakes - it perhaps suffered from having to follow 'Roads' and, as it did not have quite the emotional power, felt somewhat like light relief. This is not to say that it was a bad film - far from it, and one cannot help but feel empathy towards this couple in their twilight years, whose only sources of joy are systematically abusing each other and delivery visits from the man who lives downstairs. The ending, with a seeming resolution over cake, gave the film a more overtly upbeat tone than the others. It was also less political than the first two, and more personal.

The fourth and final film was 'Pinhas', directed by Pini Tavner. It tells the story of a young Russian immigrant boy whose mother works night-shifts in a convenience store. The film blended comedy with personal tragedy, as the boy - feeling neglected by his mother who has to sleep during the day (and sleep with her boyfriend) - briefly fonds comfort in the religion of the Orthodox family upstairs. There are cultural misunderstandings that shape the comic element - particularly when he goes to the butcher dressed 'religious' to get bacon - and the threatening image of the 9-year old child brandishing a kitchen knife towards his mother and her lover in bed (an idea he got from the story of Pinhas, told by the older brother of the religious family) is striking and unsettling. The eventual conflict between the mother and the religious family, and Pinhas' disappointment at no longer being able to be 'religious', could - under less-able direction - have seemed comic. There is something of a hopeful resolution, with Pinhas and his mother taking a walk on Shabbat, and the film managed to blend in many different elements skillfully (including the political question of the position of these russian immigrants in society).

To give marks out of ten:
'Questions of a dead worker' - 6/10, good, though a touch heavy-handed on the political symbolism.
'Roads' - 9/10, very impressive.
'Dessert'- 7/10, charming yet a touch quaint when considering the company.
'Pinhas' - 9/10, very nice, both funny and depressing.

Special mention has to go to the very able child actors in 'Roads' and 'Pinhas', particularly the lead characters. Both delivered mature, believable performances.
Special mention must also go to the fantastic seats at the gallery at the Everyman (large, comfortable, leather seats that would seem at home in a country estate, with tables for glasses and bottle holders), and to the copious amounts of free wine.


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