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"Yana's Friends" is an innocent story of being lost, finding love, and surviving several SCUD missile attacks. It is a multi-lingual with universal messages, which pulls from relevant moments in Tel Aviv history. "Yana" makes successful leaps and bounds, unlike most American films, by keeping our conflicts and comedy centralized while remaining focused. An old apartment building is our destination as Yana and her husband arrive with a hefty bank note in hand and a surprising "bun-in-the-oven", while macho man Eli seduces women and parties the nights away as a wedding photographer. Add to this mix a couple with a WWII veteran, a street musician, and a rusty old landlord who is about to recapture her youth, and "Yana's Friends" finally takes shape. This is a soaring skyscraper, character driven film that is part comedy, mostly drama, creatively building tension around the violence of the 1991 Gulf War. The film is simple at first, becoming complicated over time, but never forgetting its roots. It is emotional, far from the cannon of pure comedy; the lacked translation transforms it into an absurdist drama that could bring tears. "Yana's Friends" is a completely solid entry into the world of foreign films and groundling strengths, alas, it isn't perfect.
The way that "Yana's Friends" works is such, the first thirty minutes are exciting, building new characters, introducing them to their quirks and settling down, it is the second act, and the choppy third where we loose momentum and finally some steam. The dismal center of this film is important, it is needed to get character A to character B, but ultimately does it have to be so depressing? As Yana struggles with her newfound freedom, she lashes out – in an unfunny scene (though it was meant to carry some humor) she attempts to plow through the airport and board a plane she is not allowed to. It is embarrassing for our characters and for us as we see this event take shape – and it feels awkward. As she returns, she lashes out towards her friends and ultimately falls in love. Again, these scenes become ridged in nature, never quite bringing that solidarity needed for audiences to completely fall for Yana and her crew. It is the apartment owner's sudden realization that again, is cute at first, but fails to become poignant by the film's end. "Yana's Friends" boasted a solid opening, where director Arik Kaplun could spread his creativity, his originality widely, but then he rushed the end. Perhaps it is the time-frame of the film, or the inability to answer "why", but Yana just twittered from one man to the next, looking for the same thing we, as audiences, were looking for – that solid piece of art that we could hold onto.
Yet, there is a place for "Yana's Friends" within the history of cinema. This opens the door to Israeli films, a genre that I haven't explored enough, and it conquers the theme of beginning with nothing and ending with emotions stronger than any inanimate object you could own. The concept of immigration in this foreign film was intriguing to watch, to explore really, as it felt like events that could relate throughout the world. As we enter a new era of war and love, one could envision this happening anywhere – which makes "Yana's Friends" stand out. The comedy was missing, but perhaps that was just the lacking subtitles. This was a good film, just not a powerful one as the box touts. I could suggest this film to friends, perhaps I could watch it again, but it not a film to have in the collection. "Yana's Friends" delighted me to watch, but the lacking ending and trivialized characters forced it out of perfection.
Grade: *** ½ out of *****
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