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19 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

True to Oz

Author: hadarbechor
17 October 2015

I had read the book when it was first published, and I felt it was a masterpiece. Oz captured the dark and difficult yet hopeful period of Jewish and Israeli history so well - from the siege on Jerusalem, to relations with Palestenians, to the impact of uprooted Eastern European Jewish survivors' lives. He also let us into the secrets of his childhood. It is a profound book.

Of course to turn this long and complex tale into a movie is very challenging, and especially as a directorial debut. However, I felt that Natalie Portman and her team captured the essence of the book. The period scenes, the choice of important segments of the book, the characters - it felt familiar to me, true to the book.

I'm sorry to read in a couple reviews that the historical references did not register. I personally feel that she did justice to the period, the place and the story. Yes, it was dark for the most part. Because Amos Oz remembered his childhood as dark, because of the times, the atmosphere in the home (his parents were mismatched), the poverty and the fear. And mostly because of his mother's falling into illness. In the book Oz never mentioned a diagnosis, but it was clear, and made clear in the movie as well, that she was clinically depressed, and no treatment was available. One of the parts I liked the best in the movie, was the sporadic appearance of the "new Jew" prototype, which she adored, and which her husband did not fit in the least. The handsome, strong man, the antithesis of the Eastern European Jewish nerdy and scholarly type. What she did with this mythic male at the end of the movie was brilliant, and the narrator also tells us that he himself tried to become this man, and couldn't. Maybe the viewers need to read some background before watching the film, but I felt justice was done to the book and to the spirit of it. Those who dismiss the linguistic aspects need to realize that the new and forming language, Hebrew, and the father and son's interests in life, are tied together, and represent a very important part of the story. That is probably why Natalie Portman insisted on the movie being in Hebrew. Will she adapt it into an English version? Maybe.

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21 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

an extraordinary debut. Memorable, haunting, beautiful and true.

Author: gisele-27273 from israel
12 September 2015

This is a beautifully made film.Its slow pace at times matches with integrity the focus chosen by Portman, one of many interpretive avenues that could be pursued. I find it idiotic for critics to keep saying that "it's not like the book"or describe it as "dreary". I see it as a marvelous visual transcription, its development towards the end seemingly as inevitable as the last movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony. Portman recreated an entire era,offered original visual interpretations and the casting ( including her own acting) is memorable. I feel very lucky to have seen this movie before reading the book. I feel I can comprehend the movie on its own merits,and it will augment my appreciation of the book. It will be remembered as one of the best Israeli films based on great literature. An extraordinary debut for Natalie Portman.

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11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

A long string of cinematic poems

Author: Nozz from Israel
20 September 2015

The movie is beautiful and sometimes quite self-conscious about it, settling into a sequence of many set pieces each of which seems to make a point of its own until remembering them all (to see how they're relevant later on) becomes quite a chore, at least for a bear of little brain like me. There is not much dramatic impetus driving the film along, except that at one point the War of Independence carries the action with its start, middle, and end. What keeps the audience in its seat is more the poetry of the visuals and the thoughtfulness of the text than any great tension or suspense from moment to moment.

A juvenile actor in a major role is always a challenge. In this case, the kid certainly doesn't spoil the movie, but he doesn't make the scenes his own either. His looks don't proclaim him to be the naive and sensitive outsider he's supposed to be; in fact his looks aren't distinctive at all, and a single child actor is used for too many years of plot. (At the start he's behaving too much younger than he looks.)

The narrator explains in retrospect that the Arabs and Jews of Palestine would have got along fine if only they had understood they were all fellow victims of Europe. The proposition is questionable in the light of the current war of civilizations, but coming from writer Amos Oz it is a mercifully mild example of his kooky politics and we're lucky the film contains nothing worse. Natalie Portman was allowed to make Oz' book into a melancholy elegy that resembles a walk through a beautiful but exhaustingly large museum. Item after item. "It was nice," I said to my wife afterward. "It was, but toward the end I was just waiting for it to finish," she replied.

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10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

A 'Tale' That Cannot Raise Above the Words

Author: dromasca from Herzlya, Israel
29 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When it comes to films inspired by books I find the discussions about whether the book was 'better' (or not) than the film futile. I also do not consider films being 'true' to the books that inspired them as being a necessary virtue for this category. Literature and cinema are very different forms of art. They create emotions and they trigger thoughts each in very different manners. Even if the words in a play by Shakespeare or in a novel by Tolstoy are the same as in the film inspired by these, emotion comes from a different place for readers, theater audiences and movie audiences. It is somehow easier for me to avoid this kind of discussion in the case of the very ambitious project that was undertaken by already famous actress Natalie Portman for her debut as a film director, as I did not read (yet) the memoirs of Amos Oz that bear the same name - 'A Take of Love and Darkness'.

From what I get from critics and friends who have read the book, Portman selected out of the very rich and complex memoirs that cover the first fifteen years of the life of Jerusalem-born Amos Oz one specific thread with a personal touch about the relation between the young boy and his mother, and focused the film on it. This may have been a fine choice, as the change of perspective and the decryption of the character of the young woman who came to Mandatory Palestine from Europe before the breaking of the war, her cultural shock, the building of the relationship with her son, the facing of historical developments and family crisis ending in the suicide that marked the biography of the writer - all these make of some fascinating material. And yet, the film never takes off. It may have been the deep respect for the text which let director Portman believe that she must be true not only to the spirit but also to the letter of the book. Maybe a more mature director, maybe Portman herself ten or twenty years from now if she continues on the directing path, would have had courage to build a more independent story with the risk of competing with the words of the writer. She did not do it, unfortunately.

The result is a very literary film, and this is not, unfortunately, a compliment here. There are a few beautiful things in this film. Cinematography by Slawomir Idziak is exquisite - with the metaphors of dreams, of the Old Country, of the darkening skies of Europe covered by the birds of prey. Portman's acting is also sensible and touching at the key moments. The labyrinth of Jerusalem's narrow streets has both charm and also enhances the sensation of claustrophobia and pressure. Two many other aspects are however missed by: the roots of the psychological and physiologic decay of the mother, the build-up of tension between father and son that leads to the decision of the boy to change the course of his life. I am afraid that the non-Israeli audiences, or audiences not familiar with the history of Mandatory Palestine and the making of Israel will have a hard time understanding the details and the atmosphere, and there is not enough consistency in the characters (not to speak about action) to make them interested in the drama. I usually dislike using off-screen voice in movies. The words spoken off-screen are the most beautiful part of this film, and this is no wonder, as most of them are quotes from the book of the great writer who is Amos Oz. Their role in the film is to explain what the director could not translate in images. This is a problem.

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

tell me a story

Author: David Ferguson ( from Dallas, Texas
21 April 2016

Greetings again from the darkness. The establishment of the state of Israel and the memoir of Amos Oz are the foundation of the feature film directorial debut of Natalie Portman. First time directors don't typically fight over such source material, but it has always seemed that Ms. Portman was headed towards bigger (and more important) things.

She was born in Jerusalem and this story opens in that city during 1945. The narrator is the elderly Amos and the story is told through the eyes of young Amos (a very effective Amir Tessler) … though the focus is on his mother Fania (played by Ms. Portman).

The tensions between Jews and Arabs are ever-present, but this is the mostly personal and intimate struggle of Fania and her family. She has survived the atrocities of the Holocaust, though many of her family and friends did not. In fact, her inability to overcome this past and adjust to the new world is what has the biggest impact on young Amos and his scholarly father Arieh (Gilad Kahana). Amos soon figures out that the litmus test for his mother's mood is whether she is telling stories of the old days, or staring blankly into a void.

Watching someone fade away and experience death by depression/disappointment/unfulfilled dreams goes so against what we typically see on screen – the emotionally strong and heroic types. Portman's performance makes it believable, but no less difficult to watch … for us or young Amos.

The film is well shot and well acted, and much more is conveyed through faces and movement than spoken words … somewhat unusual for the recollections of a writer. The color palette and the silence dominate many scenes, and it seems appropriate given the situation of this family. Expect to see many more projects from director Portman, as she obviously has much to say.

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11 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

must watch! a phenomenon piece of art!!!

Author: telalit from israel
9 September 2015

Natalie Portman's first film has left me with even bigger admiration for her than what I had before. It's absolutely incredible what she has created. Extraordinary directing, amazing acting (she always act perfectly, but here she does it in Hebrew which is not to be taken for granted! Let's admit it- the woman is brilliant...), perfect filming and soundtrack. I can't get over how powerful this experience just was. I'm so looking forward now to see what other films she will direct because clearly she has got a great talent for that a well. Also, she chose an important story to create a film for. I mean, it really is a part of Israel's history. So, I have no more words other than to tell you - Please, go see it now! You don't want to miss that...

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10 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

TIFF40 2015 Film Review: A Tale of Love and Darkness

Author: lucasnochez from Canada
16 September 2015

"It's better to be sensitive than to be honest".

It is no surprise that first time writer/director Natalie Portman is taking a Pro-Jewish stance in her newest film A Tale of Love and Darkness. A celebrated novel by one of, if not the most prolific novelists hailing from Israel, Amos Oz; a last name that literally translates to "hope" in Hebrew. Oz is a novelist whose book serves as a large and hopeful story towards conflict flooding the Middle East. Sadly for Portman, whose keen eye and collaboration with many talented directors, has allowed her to visually over-stylize her film with beauty and tones of dark and tragically elegant glimpses, without much of a handle on narrative and storytelling.

A Tale of Love and Darkness is more dark than it is loving; seemingly with all but mere glimmers of hope for its small group of main characters. As the film begins, we are aware that an older Oz is telling a story, his story more specifically, essentially providing a voice-over for his novel. Narrating his words and recounting his childhood years after the Second World War, during a time Israel is under British mandate, a young Oz navigates a barren and soulless country while the politics and ramifications of war break down all around him. His only salvation are his zestful mother and realistic father. His mother Fania (Portman) and father Arieh (Gilad Kahana) are not wealthy. Ariel is an aspiring writer and librarian, Fania, a dedicated housewife who we understand leaves a life of wealth for love and motherhood, is a dreamer. Although she always imagined marrying a rebel/poet/farmer, Fania's expectations are always challenged against her realities.

The illusions and aphorisms within Fania's head are all stories of dread, drearily setting the tone for the mentality of many people during this time. It is when Fania begins her monologues about these parables that Portman's direction was at its strongest. Perhaps highly lit and stylized to their full potential, these stories provided audiences with a very real and optimistic promise of resolution and sometimes painful acceptance of war and conflict, yet so elegantly presented. Luckily, these stories account for a hefty portion of the film and drive the not-so-long runtime through smoothly.

There is no surprise that throughout the course of Portman's adaptation of Darkness, Oz is fully in love with his mother and her relentless attitude. Portman's cinematic take on the novel sadly disconnects her audience from the deep relationship between a young Oz and his living and loving mother Fania. Plagued with sleepy fade outs, incoherent scenes developing a young Oz and a highly depressed Fania, mixed with a blend of illustrious illusions and parables, pushed with a dash of Arieh's involvement with the family, Darkness is a dimly lit tragedy filled with hardly any love and mostly resent. Much like her character Fania, the light that so easily gleamed from her eyes and into the lives of other characters surrounding her, Fania's light slowly fades, bulldozing her character into a state of depression.

Portman is a dynamic actress with a very strong political voice when it comes to many of the conflicts happening in the Middle East today. As a recent Oscar winner and Harvard graduate with an articulate and respectable celebrity presence, it is difficult to imagine many critics and film reviewers giving scathing reviews for a piece of work that isn't all that good. Portman's efforts behind and in front of the camera are very admirable; her promise as a director is highly confident and most of all, her content is riveting, just not in this film.

Darkness is a film that toys with the failed promises of youth, speaks in a cocky and overstuffed tone of ethereal Hebrew that fails to connect its audience to the words and highly complex fantasies running through Oz's and Fania's head. Poetic, tragic, benign with its potential perspective to show a very unbiased side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Portman's feature directorial and writing debut is a tale of much promise.

Portman may have tried to show the most innocent and bare examples of the conflict through scenes between children; one involving a dangerous swing, another involving children in a school playground. As such it is no surprise that the new director succeeds at very basic and simple action/reaction scenes. Sadly however, while Darkness comes to a conclusion, Oz's redemption from childhood to youth is never really seen or appreciated. Instead, audiences are left with a handsome and enlightened youth whose promise as an affective and politically conscious presence is spoiled in the beginning scenes of an older and wiser voice-over character. Editing is surely not one of Darkness' strong suits.

Portman is keen on showing that violence and conflict have no age limits or boundaries; it is unwavering and unkind to gender and race. Wholeheartedly, A Tale of Love and Darkness attempts to show us the light. The unfortunate reality, however, is that the lights always seem to be turned off.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

A Moving and Artistic Film

Author: Moviegoer19 from United States
25 December 2016

I have not read the book upon which the film was based, so my comments are purely on the film. Maybe fifteen or twenty minutes in I was thinking, okay, what's going on here? Why should I care about this story and these characters? As I continued to watch my caring about the characters and their story increased, until, by the end, I was very moved and cared deeply.

At some point beyond halfway, I thought the greatest feat here is the creation of mood, not only of the characters but of the whole world presented in the film, and then, transferred to me, by virtue of my watching and listening to it. It's a visual and auditory feast.

A lot happens in this film, both personally and historically, but ultimately what I was left with was a sense of a man recalling his childhood and the emotion that he carried with him through his life. As other reviewers have indicated, it's a poetic film, and I wound up absorbing it the way I might a poem. And in that way, it worked beautifully.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Beautiful and poetic

Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C.
19 September 2016

In a quiet moment in Natalie Portman's ("Knight of Cups") beautiful and poetic A Tale of Love and Darkness, a mother says to her young son "If you have to choose between telling a lie or insulting someone, choose to be generous." When the boy asks her whether or not it is alright to lie, she replies, "Sometimes... yes. It's better to be sensitive than to be honest." It is an important lesson, one I wish I had learned earlier in my life. Written and directed by Portman, who also stars as Fania, Amos' (Amir Tessler) troubled mother, the film is based on the memoir of Israeli novelist and journalist Amos Oz and is set in Jerusalem in the critical period before the transition from the British mandate in Palestine to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 following the Arab-Israeli War.

Opening in 1945 after the Klausner's escape from the desecration of a once vibrant culture in Eastern Europe, it is the story of the early influences in Oz's life that propelled him to become a famous writer. As narrated by Moni Moshonov and told from the viewpoint of the older Amos Oz recollecting his past, the film attempts to probe the depths of a family whose dream of a land of milk and honey becomes darker as it progresses, telling us that the worst thing that can happen to a dream is that it is fulfilled. Amos' father Arieh (Gilad Kahana, "The Man in the Wall") is a librarian who has just published is first novel and desperately wants to achieve the success of his own father, historian Joseph Klausner. Though he does not succeed, he never stops being thankful for Israel, telling his son, "You'll be bullied in school, but not because you're Jewish." We learn early in the film that Amos' mother Fania blames herself for leaving behind a life of wealth. It is a self-inflicted wound exacerbated by her own mother's verbal cruelty, one that is manifested by insomnia, migraine headaches, and a long struggle with depression that ended with her suicide at the young age of 38. Fania is a story teller whose stories, fables, and tales of far-away lands continue to enrich Amos' life and Amos himself begins to tell stories to keep bullies from attacking him at school. The humble Amos denies that he is sensitive, saying he wants to be a farmer or a dog murderer and goes to work on a kibbutz, but the sensitive can do nothing about who they are but only attempt to share it and make it real for others.

Amos' story is depicted in the context of the short-lived joy after the U.N.'s vote to partition Palestine and the Arab attacks on Jerusalem that killed many of the family's friends and neighbors. Their home becomes a shelter for those fleeing the Arab bombs and the real consequences of Zionism and the ideal of statehood become apparent, a society caught between memories of the holocaust and fears that it will happen again. As Fania's growing depression and her drift from reality dominates the landscape, the film loses a measure of dramatic impact, yet it remains compelling and literate, attesting to the way the promise of Israel has been shattered by strident voices fighting centuries-old struggles for domination.

A Tale of Love and Darkness is an intimate film, a film of memory, one told in incidents and flashbacks. Like a film of Terence Malick, it talks in whispers, a language that exists only in the soul. There is little plot to describe, only moods and gestures. Fania's death is the film's central theme and it remains a mystery, buried in the enigma of a woman who has forgotten how to dream, yet it is transcended by the death of the dream of two vibrant cultures living together in peace and brotherhood. Early in the film, Amos is on his best behavior at a party in the home of a Palestinian neighbor. When he meets an Arab girl who can speak Hebrew, there is an immediate connection and he tells her that "there is room for two peoples in this land," but the dream ends suddenly when Amos, playing at being Tarzan, falls from a tree when the chains of a swing break injuring a little girl and the sudden chasm between the two cultures becomes a sad portent of the future.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Boring and doesn't show what you want to see

Author: phd_travel from United States
14 October 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the most boring movie I have seen for a while. There isn't much about the founding of the state of Israel if that's what you might expect to see. Instead it's mostly about the author's mother and her depression with only passing comment or two about the state of Arab Jewish relations. The melancholia headaches and death of the mother are the main story. What's so interesting about that? If it had shown her journey from Europe to Jerusalem then maybe you'd understand why she was like that. Instead it shows things that don't lead anywhere. The novelty of watching Natalie Portman speak Yiddish or Hebrew wears off quite quickly. She directed and wrote the screenplay.

I would give this one a miss. It's a tale about nothing much. For fans of this writer's work only.

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