Alex has been living in Paris by dealing drugs and is barely even getting by. He helps to support his older brother who faces his own problems, which are contributing to the complications of his desire to move on to something new. He is worried about leaving his brother but also wants to be able to move away and to start over. He has also gone through a bad relationship breakup, which may have contributed to him wanting to move to Tel Aviv as well. Over the course of this smart character-based story, we come to meet his brother Isaac (Cedric Kahn) and learn more about the relationship between these brothers. Alex also meets a girl named Jeanne (Adele Haenel), who is complicating things further as he becomes involved in a relationship with her and it makes things much more difficult. He now has a reason to want to stay in Paris, but he still wants to move and complete Aliyah to enter Tel Aviv and leave his drug dealing behind, his destructive brother, and start over in a legitimate business. Can Alex truly find peace for himself in the end and what will be the outcome from completing Aliyah? These are at the core of the film's deeply moving study of the character.
One of the main things I appreciate so much about getting to see films that are released under the Film Movement label is that I am often introduced to quality efforts by independent filmmakers that I would have otherwise passed me by unnoticed. This is the case with international efforts especially as a lot of great foreign language films simply struggle to find good distribution. Film Movements provides that to these sorts of filmmaking efforts. Aliyah is a perfect example: the film was an opening night selection for Director's Fortnight at Cannes but it isn't something that would be released to that wide of an audience. Yet here is a film that truly deserves a wider audience to experience it's inner complexities. This is a story that surprises as a truly thoughtful character based exploration.
From writer-director Elie Wajeman (and co-writer Gaelle Marce), this French production was not one that I would have likely discovered without the release by Film Movement, hence my enthusiastic declaration supporting the label. The directing of the film is excellent and it has a quiet grace in style and tone that makes the film feel more genuine and almost documentarian. The approach feels stylistically passionate with regards to the material and the storyline is one that shows real care for the characters being explored. Elie Wajeman also manages to add a good dosage of minimalism and a well-orchestrated atmosphere and tone that is capable of seeming like an afterthought to the filmmaking: it absolutely wasn't, of course, as the film found a good balance.
This is not a typical film about starting over. After all, with the central protagonist being a drug dealer, one would expect a negatively oriented characterization of the character. Yet the film is one which is quite sympathetic to Alex, showing that he is actually pretty normal and someone who doesn't even want to deal drugs. Usually the storytelling approach would be quite different, I imagine. Certainly, I was not expecting this story to unfold the way it does and become so intersected by a romance and a story about understanding and accepting one's heritage. This certainly sets Aliyah aside from a number of other character-studies. The film managed to approach it's storytelling in a way that felt more unique than most efforts and I appreciated the writing and thematic backbone of this story even more because of it.
It is a film that really moved me and was one that took me by surprise by the end of the entire journey taken. I found myself rooting for Alex to go to Tel Aviv but I also wondered about the way in which things would go down between himself and his brother, especially as there is a 'breakup story' attribute to the relationship. I also pondered about how this film would end because of the romantic aspects: Would Alex and Jeanne stay together or would the journey to Tel Aviv tear them apart?. Much to my surprise, these elements are all central ones that give more dramatic weight to the characters and to the storyline.
For fans of intelligent and thought-provoking character studies told with a bit of edge and a uniqueness that helps to make it feel more compelling and believable, Aliyah works many wonders with its approach. The film is never showy or loud and instead the audience will discover ways in which this story is more concerned about simply being about characters: learning and exploring them. Aliyah is all about the characters of the story and the film is all the more fascinating for it. Those who appreciate such dramatic works should seek it out. Aliyah might ultimately surprise with its thoughtful and notable approach to the story.
Aliyah is presented on DVD in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The release has been given anamorphic widescreen enhancement so that the image fills widescreen HDTV televisions. The film presentation is mostly a strong one with a impressive approach noticeable from director of photography David Chizallet. The film has a appropriately bleak and subdued color scheme in many scenes -- which seems to properly reflect the atmospheric direction and some of the quietly sad elements of the story. Yet when the romantic aspect is approach, Chizallet adds a bit more to the color and brightness and it synchs well with the story. Contrast, black levels, and depth were good for the most part. The only real problem I encountered with the picture-quality was that in certain scenes the image had some issues with stability and there was a bit too much distracting video-noise in parts, probably because the source-material itself was not perfect due to how the film was shot. Film Movement has done a good job of preserving the intended look and the PQ bitrates are quite-good for a DVD release (often hovering around 7 or 8 mbps).
The 5.1 surround sound presentation is not that noticeable for most of the film with only a few moments that even actually utilize the surround speakers. The entire film is mainly focused upon the dialogue and in that area it does a good job of reproducing what is said so that things are easy enough to hear for viewers. The soundstage is quite small and should not be considered as anything fancy but it does a decent job at reproducing the basic audio design.
In French with English subtitles.
The main extra on this release is the monthly short film selection by Film Movement.
The selected short is entitled On The Road To Tel-Aviv, which is a fitting inclusion given the setting but also for its dramatic storytelling. The short is from director Khen Shalem and is a Israeli production. In it, the story begins by focusing on a loading bus where a terrorist act happens which ultimately destroys the bus and kills the on board passengers. The rest of the storyline is one centering around a loading bus which many decide to leave. Arguing ensues. The passengers concern themselves with the issue of whether or not one of the passengers is a terrorist and it becomes a dramatic confrontation which involves the bus-driver, who offers some surprises, intelligence, and grace in this intelligent and meaningful short film. The film leads to a smart and strong conclusion and is one that will evoke emotions in viewers. I strongly consider Shalem 's On The Road To Tel-Aviv something worthy of being labeled as a masterpiece of short filmmaking.
Film Movement has also included a note from director Elie Wajeman, bios, trailers promoting other releases, and a note about why Aliyah was selected for release.
Aliyah is a thoughtful film about a character seeking a new beginning, and who must go on a spiritual journey of sorts along the way. This intimate character-study is a finely written and directed effort that fans of dramatic efforts will appreciate for its strong storytelling, performances, and direction. It deserves a much wider audience and I hope that new viewers will experience and enjoy the effort now that it has been released by Film Movement.
Film Movement's release pairs Aliyah with an incredible short film: On The Road To Tel-Aviv, which is a masterpiece of the short-story film format. I highly recommend the release for Aliyah, but I also suggest seeking the film out for the remarkable effort accompanying the main-feature.