Devarim (1995), Amos Gitai's first installment in the now notorious City Trilogy (also including the 1998's Yom Yom and 1999's Kadosh) tells the story of three disillusioned men living in Tel Aviv. Based on Yackov Shabatai's novel "Zihron Devarim" Gitai's film is as much of a fictional story as it is a truthful depiction of Israel's lost generation. Aesthetically well-composed, at times provocative, but ultimately not as convincing as the last installment in the trilogy Devarim is a film that by large seems to rehash what Israeli cinema from the early 90s has been mass producing-declamatory works with questionable artistic values.
In Devarim there is plenty to arouse your attention and even more to disappoint you rather quickly when you find out where the story is heading. Cesar (played by Assi Dayan, son of the Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan), Goldman (Amos Gitai), and Israel (Amos Shoov) are on the edge of their capabilities to deal with reality. Their lives, a never-ending mess of societal and cultural contradictions, have come to a halt. The men are hardly interested in what many in their country find worth living for. When disaster strikes they quickly fall in a state of lethargy-life appears to have lost its meaning.
A man with an enormous experience as a documentary filmmaker Amos Gitai most certainly does not need any introduction to those who follow world cinema. Regarded as Israel's most prolific contemporary director he regularly appears on film festivals throughout Europe and Asia. His films tend to focus on the reality in his native Israel and Devarim is most certainly not an exception. While the film's premise is built as a personal tale of disenchantment (each of the three men slowly but surely loses hope when faced with adversity) the message Devarim delivers is undoubtedly universal. Frustration, erosion of moral values, and lack of faith between those who represent the backbone of Israel is what Amos Gitai's camera is focused on.
On a technical level Devarim is indeed quite impressive. Helmed by legendary cinematographer Professor Renato Berta whose resume includes notable collaborations with Claude Chabrol, Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard, and Benoit Jacquot among others Devarim offers some impressive visuals. The dreamy vistas from Tel Aviv, intentionally fractured by the contrasting use of color and light, suggest that Amos Gitai was looking to introduce to his viewers a city quite different than what travel agencies are likely to promote.
Unfortunately as soon as we meet Cesar, Goldman, and Israel Devarim veers off in a direction that is anything but impressive. The pointless dwelling on issues that the three men are visibly incapable of addressing is where the film fails. Instead of enhancing the dramatic effect the story aims to recreate the sense of desperation and doom oozing through Gitai's camera mixed with the questionable fatalistic behavior of the three protagonists quickly left a bitter taste in me. At the end Devarim felt like a film with an enormous potential promptly washed away by dubious politicizing.
How Does the DVD Look?
If you've seen the review for Yom Yom then you should have a pretty good idea what to expect from this release. Once again someone at Kino clearly does not understand what an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 means (the back cover of this DVD states that the film is presented in a letterboxed 1.85:1 ratio which is incorrect). Mastered from an analog source the print is full of dirt, annoying specs, and marks. Colors are dull while contrast is unimpressive. Quite frankly there is very little that separates this DVD from a standard VHS release of mediocre quality.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with an utterly unimpressive Hebrew 2.0 track and burnt-in white English subtitles the audio presentation appears to be on par with the video presentation. What else is here to say…mediocre!
Well, you get chapters and some music with the main menu.
If KINO consider this to be an adequate release representing the work of Amos Gitai with the proper respect then someone should contact the director and inform him how his films are being marketed in America. Until then if you want to see more from the Israeli filmmaker I suggest you look into MK2 and their recently released massive 4DVD commemorative Amos Gitai boxset as well as the spectacular 3DVD (including six films) set by French distribs ARTE. I am sorry but for now I will have to recommend that you skip this travesty.