Directed by Dan Wolman
Opens July 13, Quad Cinema
Jewish life in 19th century Palestine is depicted as alienating and arduous in Gei Oni, the romanticism-free story of a young mother named Fania (Tamar Alkan) who, having fled Russian's brutal pogroms with her infant daughter, mentally handicapped brother (Eric Yizhakov), and uncle (Ya'ackov Bodo), finds apparent salvation via the marriage proposal of Gei Oni settlement pioneer Yechiel (Zion Ashkenazi). Such fortune, however, comes with many prices: Fania does not love compassionate Yechiel, her day labor clearing rocky fields is backbreaking, and she lives under constant threat from hostile Arab neighbors. Writer/director Dan Wolman depicts these harsh realities with sobriety but such stylistic flatness – his close-ups and medium shots are of a TV-movie quality, and his soft piano score is fit for an elevator – that the film never manages to compensate for a narrative that's severely short on actual drama. While Alkan and Ashkenazi have a naturalism that helps sell their characters' troubled frames of mind, and Wolman mitigates his material's minor late-act optimism with a carefully calibrated sorrowful glance by Fania, the persistent lack of momentum leaves this tale feeling purposeless, except as a listlessly realistic portrait of pain, perseverance and – in Fania's refusal to leave Gei Oni – Zionist conviction. Nick Schaeger.