Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai is a new wave Altman, a director who engages his audiences with pointed observations about life, his nation and character quirks that range from bitingly real to absurdly dramatic.
Alila, a panorama of modern live in Tel Aviv is a trenchant comedy, unafraid of the seedy and the political, the sexual and unlikable. In fact, within all of the characters presented here, very few would be considered likable—sympathetic or morbidly interesting would be more apt a term.
Beginning with a knockout, 8-minute traveling shot, the film grounds itself (somewhat) within the confines of a crummy, urban apartment complex wherein the characters can't seem to get away from one another. In the working class area of Tel Aviv (something Western viewers don't see much of in movies), the intersecting lives of these people will reveal and connect characters, often haphazardly and without much cogency.
Adapted (very loosely) from Yehoshua Knaz's novel "Returning Lost Loves," the film traverses the dramas of a young soldier, Eyal (Amit Mestechkin) who's deserted--something that bitterly disappoints his parents, Ezra (Uri Klauzner) and Mali (Hanna Laslo). The parents argue over whether or not to disown him while their maid (amusingly) looks on. Not surprisingly, the ex-army officer father wishes to dump his morose son who's been hanging in the red light district. Meanwhile, within these walls (everyone can hear), there's the older man Hezi (Amos Lavie) who's having an affair with the self destructive Gabi (Yaël Abecassis), and the two engage in incredibly loud sex. A masochistic relationship, there is little romance between the two and once Gabi reveals desires past the sexual, Hezi begins to retreat.
Observing these character's deeds (dirty or otherwise) is Schwartz (Yosef Carmon), a Holocaust survivor who's nearly senile with a life of quiet almost destroyed once the apartment is expanded. He's disgusted by these people and wishes things would work out—for him. They do (once the expanse dissolves) and, as if by miracle, he's not so decrepit after all. The psychic weight of dysfunction has lowered his mental capacities and once he's allowed a modicum or respite, his faculties dramatically improve--a pretty harsh statement on living among people. This is an effectively ugly movie made by a filmmaker who doesn't blanch at the unsightliness of humanity. These characters, though frequently humorous, are selfish and dirty and jaded. If this is the filmmaker's view of modern Israel, it is one of anxiety and disconnection.
Kino presents Alila in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1). The transfer is crisp, clean; worthy of Kino's usually higher priced DVD's. The grime and color pop out beautifully highlighting Gitai's intriguing visual style.
The Hebrew audio (with English subtitles) comes in Dolby Digital—an acceptable track that well conveys the silences, noise and muffles of apartment dwelling.
A cynical, morbidly funny movie that's finally, depressing, Alila is worth watching for its fearless view of humanity.
Read More Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun