The pleasures of Michal Vinik's Blush (aka Barash) are potent but subtle, captured with a certain delicacy. Through its low-conflict, naturalistic, small-scale nature, the film will likely alienate a number of viewers who will see it as boring or lacking in substance (volume, not concept). On the flipside, there are moments of authentic teenage triumph and angst, the accuracy of which will only allow those moments to resonate fully with those who are on the film's wavelength.
Naama (Sivan Noam Shimon) is a typical moody teenager. She and her friends don't appear to do much at school but watch others, and she has an uneven home life thanks to her military secretary sister Liora (Bar Ben Vakil), who has a tendency to disappear for weeks at a time. There is constant tension between her mother Michel (Irit Pashtan) and her father Gidon (Dvir Benedek), often about Liora's disappearances, but it isn't abusive so much as a vague combination of regressive ideas about gender and race that Naama and her brother Dudu (Amit Muchtar) try to ignore. One day, Naama and her friends observe Dana (Hadas Jade Sakori), a new girl at school. She's got long blonde hair, a pixie face, and is immediately of interest to Naama. Although Naama and her friends appear to have frequently killed time hitting up the local make-out joint to look for suitable men, Naama finds herself drawn to Dana, whose carefree attitude and sweetness unlock a new side of Naama's sexuality.
A familiar complaint among those who watch LGBTQ films is that so many of them are tragedies, recounting the discriminatory horrors that they face just by living their lives. Part of Blush's hook appears to be rejecting that stereotype, telling a teen romance that spends almost no time commenting on the nature of the central relationship at all. There is no indication that Naama's parents would object, if they knew, no bitterness or hatred from Naama's peers, no mention of the societal norms in Israel, where the movie is set. The film is more or less straightforward, following Naama as she starts to open herself up to the possibility of loving Dana and falls in headfirst, and it's in these rush-of-blood, heart-pounding moments of vulnerability that Vinik's film is most effective. She captures Naama's nervous half-smiles each time she puts herself out there, the desperate hunger of their first kisses. After Naama and Dana sleep together for the first time, Vinik cuts to Naama walking home with a dazed and wondrous look on her face, riding a wave of sexual exhilaration.
As Naama and Dana embrace being together, the subplot about Liora's whereabouts keeps cropping up, forming the second half of a two-part narrative that continues through the film. There may be a level of cultural commentary here (beyond Gidon's apparent racism) that doesn't quite translate, but it's hard to understand what exactly Liora's story has to do with Naama's, other than Liora's ease in serving her own needs rather than the needs of others. There is a warmth to the relationship between Naama and Liora even before Liora finally appears in the film, a sense that Liora may be the only person Naama truly trusts, but that appears to be it -- a vague sense that they're there for each other, and that Liora has no desire to judge Naama's newfound attraction. There is also an interesting relationship between Naama and her mother, which is also supportive, even as her obsession with Liora's whereabouts and what she's up to can seem excessive.
The rest of the film is devoted to moments that are simultaneously pedestrian yet emotionally monumental. Inappropriate laughter before a sexual encounter. A playful moment turned heartbreaking when viewed too many times as a cell phone video. The experience of getting drunk or high together, meeting other sexual rivals, the feeling of jealousy, and crucial sentiments not returned. Blush is less about the specific events that occur and more about what those types of events mean to us individually, which again renders the film somewhat obscure, yet likely overwhelming for those who find it taps into familiar feelings. Above all, it is a journey of self-discovery that nothing can derail or interrupt: that look of wonder on Naama's face as she discovers a part of herself for the first time.
Blush gets a straightforward "screencap-as-cover" design from Film Movement that basically highlights Naama and Dana together. The bright, '80s pastel blues and pinks provide a reassuring indication that this isn't an intense drama, as do more images on the front and back of the couple exchanging longing glances. The one-disc release comes in a transparent Amaray case that allows for a short statement from Film Movement on why they selected Blush and a statement from director Michal Vinik printed on the back of the sleeve to be read inside the case, and there is a booklet advertising other Film Movement releases.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0, Blush gets a more than decent release from Film Movement. The film has a wide-ranging color palette that is rendered quite nicely here, from dusty browns to bright primary greens and down into darker shadows and bright neon colors of the club Naama and Dana travel to in Tel Aviv. Throughout detail is strong, and no noticeable banding or compression artifacts get in the way. The film is extremely dialogue-heavy, and it's hard to imagine a full 5.1 soundtrack would've changed much about the way the movie sounds. Optional English subtitles are provided. The one quirk of the disc is that there is a second 2.0 audio track. but a sampling of it suggests this is an error of some sort, as there are no differences between the tracks that I could discern, and there is no menu option for the second track (it can only be accessed using the audio button on the remote).
As is standard with Film Movement, the one extra is a similar but technically unrelated short film. In this case, the film is "This is You and Me" (15:20) by director April Maxey. Like the feature, this centers on a lesbian relationship between a young woman and another woman she meets in a bar who turns out to be somewhat sensitive. The short is well-made but its overall theme or central idea is a bit on the vague side.
Before the main menu, trailers for The Ardennes, My King, My Love, Don't Cross That River, and a promo for Film Movement play. These same trailers, as well as additional trailers for Breathe, Take Me to the River, and Antonia's Line can be on their own submenu under "Trailers." The menu also includes an original theatrical trailerfor Blush.
Blush will likely be met with a shrug by many viewers, and yet others will find themselves devastated and uplifted by it, thanks to its specificity of vision. At its best, it is perfectly sincere without becoming sentimental; a perfectly candid and objective memory of teenage romance. Recommended.
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