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Maybe because most Israeli films need a subsidy from the same government panel, sometimes they come out quite alike. Released only a couple of weeks after GOD'S NEIGHBORS, THE DEALERS is also about young fellows who never stop smoking cannabis and one of whom is involved with a girl whose lifestyle is incompatible with theirs. The former film made a point of being set in Bat Yam, the latter makes a point of being set in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot. Ramot is a residential neighborhood, not on the tourist route although at one time tourists used to come to see the odd experimental beehive-like housing development which is (still) set into the side of a hill there. In GOD'S NEIGHBORS, the protagonists' driving motivation was to do the Lord's will and keep the neighborhood free of bad influences, and there were a couple of wise rabbis on hand to hint that violence was not the way to do that. In THE DEALERS, the protagonists' driving motivation seems to be merely to get high and stay high, so it's harder to enlist the sympathy of an average audience. (On TV, THE DEALERS was publicized as a ready-made cult movie.) Here too there are indeed minor characters on hand to provide wise advice-- a gruff basketball coach, a door-to- door proselytizer, and an aging mysterious but harmless-seeming underworld henchman. But for most of the movie, the protagonists' response to good advice seems to be to go home and smoke some more dope. There is nothing wrong with the acting, the dialogue, or the visual side, but the constantly stoned protagonists are not particularly witty or good-hearted so the film depends on a couple of points of suspense to carry it along:-- are the guys going to get into more trouble than they can handle? and meanwhile, will they even be in condition to show up for the big basketball game?
I can understand scrapping the uninformative title CARMEL, and even the extended version CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, but the title THE FORGER fooled me. I expected a focus on the intricate labors of some fascinating criminals. I figured that if the movie is good enough to enlist Lauren Bacall and Alfred Molina, it's got to be good. In fact, though, not so much. The dialogue occasionally goes wooden with exposition or preachiness, Molina's accent isn't completely consistent, in places the characters' behavior isn't easily believable, and although a couple of interesting tricks of the trade are displayed, art forgery is made to look pretty easy, with first-time forgers capable of deceiving the experts. However, I'm criticizing the movie for not being what it wasn't shot to be. From the opening music, camera-work, and text font, you can easily tell that this is a movie meant to play on women's emotions. It's about an adorable homeless boy, an adorable well-groomed girl, an adorable old lady, and a series of misunderstandings that threaten to keep them apart, and as Spielberg has shown elsewhere, if plot offers a good dramatic structure it doesn't need to hang together logically.
"The World Is Funny" has been running for several weeks now, so I guess it is even good enough to overcome a deceptive title. I can easily imagine audiences expecting something like a globe-hopping candid camera movie, but on the contrary the writer-director emphasizes that he is fictionally portraying the one little town of Tiberias and its particular eccentrics, and not always in a rib-tickling way at all. A device linking some of the characters is a story-writing class, and as a device it rings somewhat artificial, but I suppose that putting so many characters and relationships into two hours must require a little squeezing and shortcutting. Probably nothing can convey to non-Israeli viewers the cultural standing of the Gashashim, a trio who were to comedy and Tiberias in Israel what the Beatles were elsewhere to music and Liverpool. The title "The World Is Funny" comes from a catchphrase of the Gashashim, and a veteran of the trio is involved in one of the movie's subplots, playing himself and explaining to an ever-hopeful fan that now that one of the three has passed away, there will never be another performance. The many plot threads, amusing and tear-jerking by turn, mostly coalesce into the story of a single family and enlist the audience's sympathy despite the occasional creak of artificiality. The writer-director's love for Tiberias comes through-- perhaps more clearly than anything concrete distinguishing Tiberias from other towns, but it's an old principle that by concentrating conscientiously on something in particular the artist winds up touching on what's universal.
What develops in a little community where women have no presence? In an odd 1989 movie called SONNY BOY, it seemed that in such a community a man has the choice of either assuming a woman's role or expressing all his emotions by way of violence. In GOD'S NEIGHBORS, on the other hand, we see male friends commonly treating each other with an extra measure of tenderness and concern while still ready with plenty of violence against their enemies. The dearth of women in GOD'S NEIGHBORS is partly due to the religious life style of the characters, partly written in explicitly as background (the protagonist's mother has died), and partly just a constant coincidence. Women just don't happen into the scene much aside from the plot thread that is set into motion by the appearance of Miri-- played by Rotem Zissman-Cohen, who seems to be uncommonly busy these days filling supporting roles in top-notch movies. The plot is a little like Lenny Bruce's routine about the provocatively dressed woman. "Do you like the way she looks? - Sure. - Would you like to date her? - Sure. - Would you like to marry her? - If we get along well, why not? - And then would you let her dress that way? - Are you kidding? That's my wife!" The protagonist is conflicted in a similar way, but the woman starts to draw him away from the culture of violence around him (which, the Hebrew dialogue makes clear, is heavy with sublimated sex) and there is a wise rabbi or two on hand with good advice that he may or may not take. The acting is very believable, with fluent and occasionally funny dialogue, the violence is not glamorized but is rather phony-looking (you can see one or two punches miss), and for the Israeli viewer the Bat Yam location is vivid. For some reason the Israeli funders have in recent years been favoring films that emphasize their directors' home towns: Tiberias in "The World is Funny," Kfar Sava in "Lost Islands," Jerusalem in "Obsession," Haifa in "The Matchmaker."
I'm not a Christian but I'm willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good script. Show me Jesus turning water into wine or raising the dead, and if it's presented well and is well-intentioned, I'll buy it the way I'll buy a trip into the future or a haunted house. And I wanted to like this movie because I do believe in defending the world against those who believe that the worse it gets for ordinary people, the better it is for the cause of some self-righteous violent anti- Western revolution. But the conviction with which the characters-- and even the government-- are shown to accept Biblical prophecies, and not just the prophecies themselves but a particular leap of interpretation regarding the prophecies, doesn't get sold here. It's just stated. The action sequences are fine, but a little time should have been sacrificed for some explanation of a convincing, reasonably detailed parallel between prophecy and reality, and if that parallel doesn't exist in the real world (as I think it doesn't), then reality could have been fictionalized a little. Maybe the problem is that the movie didn't want to obviously fictionalize because it didn't want to look as if the point of view it promotes is based on a fiction.
The backgrounds in CHICO & RITA are like laboriously crafted big-band jazz arrangements. Everything is there but it is intentionally a little skewed. The neon signs are misspelled or wrongly composed; the familiar landmarks are a little misshapen. The major characters stand out in their unadorned sketchiness, like semi-improvised jazz solos. There may be also be an intentional tribute to Picasso in the way their faces are drawn. It doesn't always work; the inconsistency in the faces depending on angle and distance is a little distracting, and there seems to be a problem with the shadows under their noses; but the movie is not selling itself on the strength of its character animation. The strong points are the visual atmosphere and of course the music. The plot is a creaky melodrama that live actors might not have got away with, but the music makes us want to suspend disbelief and the distancing effect of the artwork makes it possible. Not a movie for everyone, but maybe the next best thing to a trip to Havana.
A top Israeli actor, Moshe Ivgy made both his writing debut and his
directing review with this film. Two other writers are credited with
him, but all together they did stumble a little. This is one of those
movies where a number of stories start out separately and then turn out
to intertwine. The device is legitimate; generally nobody says "what an
unreasonable coincidence" when the characters we've seen separately run
into one another, because we all understand that's why they were all in
the movie in the first place. But once the click of connection has
occurred, additional scenes where chance establishes additional
connections are a thing of comedy and this movie tries to set them in a
drama. Dickens could get away with such stuff, but today's movies try
to downplay it even when adapting Dickens.
Introducing a bunch of initially independent plot lines is a challenge that Ivgy handles pretty well. The actors are for the most part reasonably difficult to confuse with one another, and we don't spend time waiting to see whether anything will happen. On the other hand, we do have to wait to find out who, if anyone, is a character who deserves our sympathy. Perhaps intentionally, the movie starts out looking quite misanthropic, as if the scene-- Tel Aviv-- has fundamentally deteriorated into dog-eat-dog misery; but as the movie proceeds, some of the characters are shown to have sympathetic facets and to be capable of worthy acts. Maybe that's the point of the movie-- that goodness endures-- but it doesn't easily carry the weight of the whole movie; though individually each scene holds interest, you can wind up wondering what you watched it all for and the answer may be that it was Moshe Ivgy's first exercise in movie-making.
From descriptions by other people, I had the impression that the setting for this movie was in some way post-apocalyptic or at least post- ruination in some way, but it is only exaggerated, as if a lot of common everyday pleasure has been filtered away and a lot of common everyday roughness and sadness has been injected to take its place.
I'll tell you what I liked about the movie, because what's not to like has been pretty well covered. Old Wyatt Earp says, "You have to understand the War Between the States. The war formed us, made us who we are. After killing your own cousins, your own brothers, killing strangers meant nothing. Lawless times followed those long dark years." It's not a new thought, but it's well developed. Out in the countryside the movie presents people who describe themselves as Christian, as if Christianity were driven to take refuge away from the cities and the evil would have to burn itself out before Christianity could return. A parallel could be drawn with modern times in which Christian values seem to be retreating from the great American cities. Along with this idea, we have a bit of the observation that we heard in A Few Good Men, and before that in The Caine Mutiny, about how the kind of warriors we look down upon are the ones who protect our innocence. Val Kilmer hams it up a little, but some behavior that looks unforgivably strange on his part at the beginning is explained at the end. Another pivotal role is played by Diana Degarmo. If you can't believe she is a unique 19th- century stage performer whom men fall head over heels in love with-- even a sober man like Wyatt Earp-- then you don't have a movie here. But she pulls it off. You'd never guess she came off American Idol, although she did. (You'd think the guy playing Bat Masterson did, although he didn't.)
A man walks into his own apartment in the middle of the day while his wife is napping there, and it seems he is intrigued by the chance to see the components of his life and not to affect them. The ghostliness of his presence prompts him to experiment with the contrast of a limited, manageable impact-- pushing a napkin-holder off a table. More and more, he withdraws from interaction with his everyday world. Sometimes he hides and observes, other times he just hides. Sometimes he makes noise where there is no one to hear. Is this exciting cinema? Is it relevant? Will it draw audiences? Being an Israeli-German coproduction, maybe THE EXCHANGE, with its emphasis on alienation and inaction, will go over better in Germany, since Israelis are a rather busy and involved population. You need to be willing, to some extent, to enjoy observation as a substitute for action, the way the protagonist does. But the bottom line is that with so little happening, and not all of it clearly motivated, I doubt that the script would have been shot at all if the creator weren't recently responsible for the beloved film THE BAND'S VISIT, and I consider myself lucky to have caught the film on its commercial opening night because I'm not sure it will last out the week.
Having seen the preview and admired the cityscapes, I was disappointed to see that here in Israel the movie was strictly a matinée feature and dubbed into Hebrew. No showings for us folks who work during the day and would prefer subtitled French. I picked up a pirated copy, which turned out to be dubbed into English. I found the opening tribute to early French cinema a little tiresome, but I have no problem being patient while a well-deserved tribute is made. Then as the archetypal Parisian characters were introduced, I found the portraiture amusing. There was a long wait before the title character appeared and before the first song, and I found the first song less interesting than the later ones (although that may be intentional). The dance movements were nicely animated although a little sexy for a children's movie; overall I think the movie seems to have been conceived under the philosophy of "something for everyone" rather than "everything for kids." After a while, the stereotyped characterizations wore thin and there seemed to be less compensation for those of us missing 3D. I actually fell asleep during the big chase sequence near the end, which I suppose was some kind of a roller-coaster ride for the 3D audience. By the time it was over, the movie had evidently achieved everything it wanted although not always a lot of it at the same time.
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