The eerie and rather bleak mind of a poet is entered in this beautifully sombre biopic of sorts. Due to appear in the Israeli Film Festival, one master of his craft tributes another in this grim but rewarding artist exposé.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Director Nir Bergman (Broken Wings, HBO’s In Treatment), an ace of capturing the healing process of “broken” people, delivers us another vivid portrait of a fragmented soul. Yona tells the life story of famous Israeli poet Yona Wallach (Naomi Levov) who was transformed by her father’s tragic death as a young girl into a sexually charged lyrical genius. Beginning with her early struggles to explode onto the poetry scene, the film leaves no dirty detail or harrowing happening unexplored; we ricochet from her mother’s shame in her work and deteriorating health, to frequent and graphic sex scenes with either gender (or cross-gender, or a group…), to quirky encounters with fellow eccentric poet Tom Hagi (playing himself in a rather inspired touch). It all serves as the muse for Yona’s poems, but eventually leads her into a dark world of psychotherapy and mental breakdown…
Bergman’s visual flair stands out here; Yona’s luscious red lips, and outfits of her lovers illuminated against the washed out grey and brown tones make the film well deserving of its Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design awards from the Israeli Film Academy. Naomi Levov commits fully to a traumatic role, truly highlighting Yona’s despair as her poetry is plagiarised, and breast cancer tightens its grip on her mortality. Perhaps a little too grief-heavy at times, Yona is difficult viewing, but worth braving for an unrelenting performance, delicious scenery and, of course, alluring and haunting poetry.
Screening: 8:30pm, Saturday 22nd August. Cinema Paradiso.
Cheap design tricks fail to breathe life into a concept ripe with potential in Adam Kalderon’s feature film directorial debut.
Marzipan Flowers tells the story of Hadas (Nuli Omer), a 48-year-old woman who begins an unlikely friendship with Petel (Tal Kallai), a transgender woman, after she leaves her kibbutz life behind, and decides to start life anew in the big city.
Whilst it isn’t totally bereft of interesting narrative ideas, Marzipan Flowers is sorely lacking in terms of production value, and sheer filmmaking technique. The entire set design is comprised of vast black and white backgrounds painted to look like a room or exterior setting; from a flat Tel Aviv storefront, to a wall of motionless washing machines in a Laundromat, everything is just wallpapered across a sound stage they’re using to shoot on.
After pondering whether this was a stylistic decision, or a financial one, I came to the conclusion I’d been duped into watching a really crude high school drama production. The colour contrast – bright orange and lurid yellow costuming against the dull backdrop – might be striking to look at, but when you can only move the camera along one horizontal set, and never set foot on location, your film is going to feel stilted, drab and uninteresting.
It doesn’t help that the acting is of the same standard, with Omer and Kallai striding across the ‘stage’ like overzealous undergraduates. Plus, most of the jokes are crude sight gags that revolve around Petel’s transgender figure, and abrasive personality. Even at a meagre 70 minutes, this brief insight into the Israeli transgender experience felt like a drag.
Screening: 8:30pm, Tuesday 25th August. Cinema Paradiso
Whilst a fine piece of cinema on a technical level, the subject matter of Princess is certainly not for everyone.
⭐ ⭐ ½
Tali Shalom-Ezer’s feature film directorial debut explores the awakening of sexual desires through 12 year old girl Adar (Shira Haas), and her dark and twisted relationships with her mother (Keren Mor), her mother’s boyfriend (Ori Pfeffer), and a homeless boy who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to herself (Adar Zohar-Hanetz).
Princess is not the type of film I would generally choose to watch; in fact, it represents all that I loathe in regards to independent filmmaking. I found the film to be highly irritating, and entirely self-indulgent, and this coupled with its slow pace, as well as the lack of driving force in its narrative, made for a most unpleasant viewing experience.
That’s not to say the film is not well made; warm hues and naturalistic lighting fill the beautiful shots that have been carefully framed and angled to express the film’s unsettling tone. Alongside the performances of the core four actors, the cinematography predominantly serves to build the mood of each scene, rather than relying on music or sound design, which is mostly minimal throughout.
Although the main quartet of characters are presented in a most authentic and credible way, all of them are incredibly unlikable, and seek to exploit one another for sexual gain. Adar is nothing more than a sullen and apathetic girl on the cusp of adolescence who enjoys rebelling for the sake of it. Her intimate relationship with her mother’s boyfriend, which dances between fantasy and reality, is both disturbing and sickening to witness, and yet somehow through all of this, Haas still manages to bring forth an intriguing, multifaceted performance.
In the end, if you imagine Blue Is The Warmest Colour focussing on four people instead of two, with far less sex scenes, and a lot more sexual tension, then you essentially have the same film.
Screening: 8:30pm, Friday 21st August. Cinema Paradiso.
Images courtesy of AICE Israeli Film Festival 20-26 August, Palace Films & Vendetta Films