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.