Parent trapped: Hard-luck Israelis in a heartless world

With a cool head and level gaze, Keren Ye-daya’s stark first feature attempts a Bressonian trajectory of tragic inevitability. Or (Dana Ivgy) is a sweet-natured teenage girl in Tel Aviv who earns badly needed cash by washing dishes in her neighbors’ restaurant and collecting discarded bottles. When Or is at school or work, she locks her blowsy, sullen mother, Ruthie (Late Marriage‘s Ronit Elkabetz), inside the cramped apartment they share, though Mom often sneaks out to turn tricks. Forever smoking on the couch, Ruthie is a thickened odalisque of broken promises and hollowed-out terms of endearment, while Or plays the selfless parent: bathing her, making her bed, hooking her up with a cleaning job. But when the disapproving mother of Or’s new boyfriend, Ido (Meshar Cohen), implies that Or is a slut, Ruthie can hardly muster a word of defense for her kid.

The scoreless Or (My Treasure) consists solely of stationary shots that, while sometimes awkwardly composed, build in organic momentum and bracing detail. Ruthie’s first day of work, when she receives an excruciating lesson in serving dog food, digs for a deeper pathos than even the film’s later, more visceral indignities. But Yedaya’s unadorned style denies the characters much of a social context or an inner life; Or‘s humanism and feminist anger are finally undercut by a nagging suggestion that some essential genetic component is key to the women’s plights. (Save for soft, friendly Ido, all the men retain an indurate anonymity.) The final half-hour becomes explicit in its affinities with Lukas Moodysson’s deliriously empathetic agitprop Lilya 4-Ever (thumping house music included), but when Or looks directly into the camera, her gaze is an accusation of a heartless world at large that the film otherwise shuts out entirely. JESSICA WINTER


Directed by Pierre Salvadori

Paramount Classics, opens June 3

Praised be the gods that this rom-com is French. If not, we’d be haunted by visions of a Focker-ish Dustin Hoffman rescuing a suicidal Tony Shalhoub then orchestrating the TV germophobe’s reunification with ex Lisa Kudrow. Vive la France! Saving another—decidedly less gorgeous—self-destructive (the first, Girl on the Bridge‘s Vanessa Paradis), Daniel Auteuil charms as a selfless maître d’ who takes pity on a loveless schlub (José Garcia). Invariably Auteuil falls for his despondent ward’s ex (Sandrine Kiberlain), which is the extent of the plot’s complexity. Auteuil’s craggy face sags with earnestness, but his goofy vulnerability carries the film. The humor—light and sweet as street vendor coffee—rarely exceeds the hilarity of Garcia scrawling scarlet letters (“bloody bitch”) on his nearsighted grand-mère after discovering she’s hastened his relationship’s demise, but as genre fare, Après Vous is saved by its irresistibly sympathetic performances. PETER L’OFFICIAL


Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Andy Byatt

Miramax, opens June 3

Convinced that the life aquatic holds infinite aesthetic potential, this British doc has all the characteristics of an oceanographic IMAX—swooping helicopter shots, impossible close-ups, grandiloquent narration (by Pierce Brosnan)—except physical scale and brevity. The film threatens to be a slog from the start, when pirouetting dolphins neglect to sing “So Long & Thanks for All the Fish.” But it’s impossible for 20 camera crews to scour the sea without dredging up a few stunning images. Best of all is a coral reef nocturnally transformed into a creeping mass of tentacles—a horror movie specimen rivaled only by the creatures of the lowest depths, including kaleidoscopic jellyfish out of a Kubrick acid trip. One can marvel at the eagerness of ball-making sand crabs and the tenacity of swimming polar bears; the survival tug-of-war between sea lions and killer whales makes for a poignant interlude. Those looking for a refresher course on the workings of the food chain should be in heaven. All others may yearn for a sushi break. BEN KENIGSBERG


Directed by Ken Kwapis

Warner Bros., opens June 1

Mailmen will have a field day calculating the postage spent by Sisterhood‘s four teenage gal pals, as they send a single pair of jeans across the globe. The titular trousers mysteriously flatter each of the differently bodied high schoolers, and they use them as a touchstone for their first summer apart. Straightlaced Lena (Gilmore Girls waif Alexis Bledel) is with her grandparents in Greece, where she finds love with a fisherman; Carmen (America Ferrera, having more fun than in Real Women Have Curves) has a disastrous stay with her stepdad in South Carolina, who’s started a new family without informing her; Bridget (Blake Lively) pursues a college-age coach at her Mexican soccer camp; and Tibby (Joan of Arcadia‘s Amber Tamblyn, with a blue-streaked Emily the Strange ‘do) retires to the local Wal-Mart clone, where she scrapes together a documentary (“Like a movie, only boring?” asks a co-worker). The multiple story lines can feel choppy, but the dialogue has snap, and the pants’ powers never distract from the teenagers’ emotions. ED PARK