A woman shoots her brutal husband; a niece poisons her abusive uncle; men jump off rooftops, motivated by suicidal guilt or jealousy. Passions run high in Israeli cinema; understatement has never been a national specialty. This year's festival honors the contributions of women directors in particular, and their films present a society on the verge of exploding, where tenderness and the memory of a shared traumatic past are punctuated by outbursts of fury.
Israel's upheavals are not all political. Chronicle of Love explores the hidden domestic face of its culture of violence. Using a documentary style, director Tzipi Trope follows Nava, a social worker, on her rounds to the houses of battered women and back to her own home, where her architect husband can get a bit testy. This wrenching film is most compelling in the few moments when it steps back to show the broader picture, where domestic abuse exists on a continuum with the cult of guns, the Rabin assassination, and fuming political discourse.
Actress and director Michal Bat-Am is being honored with a retrospective. Love at Second Sight, her latest directorial effort, traces the quasi- mystical connection between a young photographer and the unknown man whose picture she snaps at the site of a tragedy. More convincing than this love story, however, is its portrait of devotion between the woman, her grandfather, and the elderly man whose house she shares a quiet romance with the sacrifices and conflicts of Israel's founders.
Nitza Gonen's Family Secrets also seems to skip a generation, focusing on a young woman's recollections of girlhood summers spent at her grandparents' house, where strange great-uncle Albert, the personification of Old World charm and decadence, left some indelible memories. Alas, the film's present-day characters seem fairly lackluster in comparison with the florid histrionics of their ancestors.
Dangerous Acts, a psychological thriller directed by Shemi Zarhin, offers the engaging spectacle of Gila Almagor and Moshe Ivgi, two great behemoths of Israeli stage and cinema, battling it out for control of each other's psyche. (The irrepressible Ivgi also stars in Yom Yom, Amos Gitai's deadpan comedy about the sexual confusions of a Jewish man with a Palestinian father.) Its weird plot seems but a vehicle for lavish displays of personality.
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