Montreal Israel Film Fest part 2: Melting Away and Obession

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So once again it’s time to delve into the world of Israeli cinema with two more films from this year’s Israeli Film Festival. Last week we had two films that seemed to have directly opposite problems (or near-problems) but this time around, our two films share the same basic issue, but to different degrees.

Melting Away

Film festivals are always the best place to go to see films that tackle controversial or taboo subjects, and Doron Eran’s new film Melting Away definitely fits that bill.

 The film begins when the teenaged Assaf is kicked out of his home when his father finds women’s clothing in his bedroom. Flash forward to present day and Assaf’s parents haven’t seen him in years, but when his father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his mother hires a private detective to track down the boy so that he and his father can reconcile before the end comes.

Things take a twist when the detective discovers Assaf has become Anna, a beautiful artist and lounge singer. Anna tells the detective she does not wish to re-establish contact with her parents, but after a change of heart she secretly re-enters her father’s life as his nurse and a new friendship between the two emerges.

Now, right of the bat, that is a great premise. It’s original, inventive, and keeps you wanting to see what happens next. The problem is, the film seems to rely a bit too much on the cleverness of its premise and the taboo nature of the overall subject matter and somewhat fails to deliver from an artistic standpoint.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about the way the film is made, but there isn’t anything amazing either. It’s competent, but in order to be truly great a film, it has to be far more than just competent. The director clearly knows how to film a scene coherently, but doesn’t take enough chances or artistic liberties. The scenes are presented exactly how you would expect them to be most of the time, and personally I think a good film has to go above and beyond in terms of presentation and not just writing and subject matter.

A good example is the soundtrack. I feel like this movie only had one piece of music, a repetitive, overly simplistic piano tune that would play without fail in every heartfelt scene. It’s a pretty piece of music, but relies on the same basic melody repeated ad nauseum. You need to mix it up, or at the very least save it for the really important moments so we don’t get sick of it. Which we will. Because I did. Very, very sick of it.

There’s also a subplot that goes directly nowhere, to such an extent that I have no regrets just telling you what it is. SPOILERS. Anna has a gay friend who comes out to his mother. She’s fine with it, he cries, they hug. That’s. IT. What purpose does it serve in the greater narrative? None that I can see. Maybe it’s supposed to show that unlike Anna’s father, some people are ok with homosexuality and transgenderism? Maybe, but the shocking final twist of the movie, which I won’t spoil, kind throws a wrench into that theory.

Overall, Melting Away is a good movie, but one that smacks of a slight lack of effort on the part of the filmmakers. The acting and story are all fine, but the director needed to up his game and failed to do so.

Obsession

I remember distinctly that as I was putting the DVD for Obsession into the player, I thought: “sounds like the title of a soap opera or something”. Clearly I’m possessed with prophetic powers, because this film is essentially an hour and a half long TV soap opera.

I want to sugarcoat this one, I really do, but I have to be brutally honest here. If the makers of Melting Away were a bit asleep at the wheel, the makers of Obsession were in a coma. The film looks like daytime TV show. The camera work is dull, the editing is dull, the whole damn production is just DULL.

NO effort was put into this, and the fact that this is director Nissim Notrika’s first film is apparent with every frame. Give me SOMETHING, man! A montage, some creative framing, some non-diegetic music, can I at least get an establishing shot?

But what’s it about? Well, it’s about a jerk. A husband and father named Sammy who cheats and beats on his wife, gambles away his money, and is terrible to his children (except his daughter, and that makes it better?). His wife Malka is clearly going slowly insane, and I suppose as a character study of abusive relationships it does ALMOST work.

At first I thought the film was going for some kind of statement about the dark side of a culture in which divorce and separation are taboo, and how it forces women to become trapped in terrible relationships they have no hope of escaping, but nope. It doesn’t seem to be a story about -why- this terrible situation has befallen poor Malka, just that it -has- and that that’s very sad.

The acting is decent, I will give it that. The guy who plays Sammy makes us hate him from the word go, and Malka is sympathetic and emotes well. But that’s the very best I can say.

As a piece of film art, this is a total wash. Nothing will stick with you, not a shot, not a line of dialogue, nothing. It’s a piece of lettuce on top of a rice cake, people. I wish I could be nice about this, really, but really I can’t. This is lazy, uninspired filmmaking and if you skip one movie at this festival, make it this one.

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