This Israeli movie won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlinale Film Festival this year, also getting rave reviews from Manhola Dargis (NYT) and Joe Morgenstern (WSJ). Written and directed by the Lapids, pere et fils, it purports to be a movie about an Israeli soldier who has completed his service with a profound hate for the militaristic nature of his country and the determination to abandon it for France. Along with becoming an expat comes the decision to forego his mother tongue and speak only French, carrying a pocket thesaurus for assistance, hence the title.
The film begins with a quick-moving camera following legs walking down a Paris street - an homage to French New Wave cinema of the sixties. Unfortunately, Yoav, the protagonist, reminded me more of Adam Sandler than Jean Paul Belmondo and the actress who plays the love interest has none of Jean Seberg’s combination of rebelliousness and beauty. Instead of an actual plot, there is a do-it-yourself grab-bag of scenes that the audience can try to figure out. Among these are the hero’s near death from extreme cold, a mysterious decision by a neighbor to give Yoav ongoing financial support, an extended and gratuitous scene of pornography, an inscrutable scene of men going at each other viciously, a puzzling scene of a man with a yarmulke accosting people with declarations of his Jewishness, an unseen wedding, a classroom of immigrants being taught the French ethos of secularity above all.
Missing from this picture is an over-riding sense of time, place and history. There is no mention of the massive Muslim influx into France and its attendant consequence of violent anti-semitism. There is no indication of how many French Jews have already fled their country, many going to Israel to find safety. We aren’t told that the French government urges Jews not to wear yarmulkes in public. There is no background for the necessity of Israeli military strength in a middle-east determined never to accept a Jewish state in its midst. Are we to believe that Yoav is so uninformed that he knows nothing about the rising tide of anti-semitism in France and Europe? Are we to assume that he isn’t aware of how many wars Israel has fought defensively and what threats it faces now from Iran and its terrorist subsidiaries?
Ultimately, this is a movie about a young man’s rage - we could call it PTSD but that’s too simplistic for all the elements that are tossed at us. The film that’s playing at the Elinor Bunin theater has an introduction by Nadav Lapid, the director, explaining that it’s partly autobiographical. The fact that he had this experience of deserting Israel is not a sufficient substitute for an intelligent presentation of reality in his chosen art form. As is, this movie remains a jumble of free-floating emotional ejaculations - perhaps the reason for the presence of pornography.
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