Coming-of-age comedies about teenage boys with prurient desires for hot older women are a dime a dozen. Make that woman the boy's aunt, though, and now you've got something!
Or something. "Nina's Tragedies," a bittersweet comedy/drama from Israel, is kind of sweet and a little creepy in its attempt to convey adolescent yearning and loneliness. The titular Nina, though, is played by a winsome, beautiful actress named Ayelet Zorer, and her warm persona more than carries the film.
Nina's nephew is Nadav (Aviv Elkabeth), about 14 years old and beginning to develop that dirty-looking half-mustache that teenage boys (and the women of New Jersey) get. He is emerging as Ninasexual -- that is, Nina, his mother's urbane book-editor sister, is seemingly the only object of his desires. With the help of his oily grownup friend Menahem (Dov Navon), he spies on Nina regularly, even keeping a diary of all his secret, lustful thoughts.
Nina's first tragedy is that her husband dies. This is good news for Nadav, though, because his mother asks him to move in with Nina for a while, to make sure she's OK. He is soon jealous of a man named Avinoam (Alon Abutbul), the military man who notified Nina of her husband's death who has since been haunted by the thought of her and seems to desire a relationship with her.
Written and directed by Savi Gavison, the film is often wryly funny, as when Nadav describes his lunatic mother's fashion designs and her stormy relationship with his father. What doesn't work, really, is the structure. Nadav is the narrator, yet we often see things he had no way of seeing, or even knowing about. In addition, the film changes its focus from Nina to Nadav halfway through, leaving us with the feeling that we've watched two half-stories rather than one full one.
But while the young actor who plays Nadav is a bit of a cipher, Ayelet Zorer gives Nina grace, sexiness and a real personality. She's someone you'd want to see a movie about, though maybe you'd wish the movie were a little more polished than this one.
VIDEO: Anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), though not a particularly good transfer. There are a few noticeable spots of dirt and other glitches, apparently copied over from the transfer print. English subtitles are available, which is useful if you don't speak Hebrew.
AUDIO: You can hear it in mono (why?) or Dolby 5.1.
EXTRAS: The only real extra is a behind-the-scenes mini-doc, 35 minutes of fairly ordinary on-set interviews and such. You will also find the film's theatrical trailer, trailers for a few other Wellspring releases, and filmographies for the major cast. (Filmographies as a DVD extra? What is this, 1998?)
Israel has produced some compelling films, both comedies and dramas, over the past few years, and it's interesting to view any movie that comes from a country so plagued with troubles. (Nina's husband dies as a result of some of these "troubles.") But "Nina's Tragedies," while competent, does not rank among the best Israel has to offer. The fact that it won so many awards from the Israeli Film Academy in 2003 is probably evidence that it was a slow year.