Dir:Keren Yedaya. Israel-Fr. 2004. 100mins.
This intimate, visually stylised but rather loose firstfictional film by Keren Yedaya paints a raw, grim and uncompromising portraitof the relationship between an adolescent girl and her prostitute mother, andthe daughter's effort to get her parent once and for all off the streets.
Yedaya,a socially-conscious activist who has already explored the theme ofprostitution in earlier documentaries, shot this Franco-Israeli co-productionin one of the least savoury parts of Tel Aviv, focusing almost exclusively onthe relations between mother and daughter, though the social and economicbackground she paints are essential to the drama.
Supportedby dedicated performances of the two leading women, Ivgi and Elkabetz, andpainstaking camera work by Laurent Brunet, Or stands a better than fairchance of finding its way into film events of every kind, though the script'ssoft belly in the middle section may make it less palatable for payingaudiences. Its profile can only enhanced by its success at Cannes, where it wonthe Camera d'Or and joint Critics' Weeks prizes among others.
Or(Ivgi), a bright, alert girl of 17 who cleans dishes in a restaurant, collectsempties to sell them back to the store and in between even manages tooccasionally attend school, brings home her mother, Ruthie (Elkabetz), aprostitute who has been plying her trade on the streets for over 20 years,after yet another spell in the hospital. The daughter is determined to changethe course of her mother's life, whether she likes it or not.
Butmoney is short, the rent has to be paid, Ruthie is difficult to manage and Or'sown reputation as an easy lay, evidently due to her need to be loved, doesn'thelp much, particularly when she finds someone she likes but is not sure shecan muster the courage to turn down the rest of her suitors. Ultimately, socialconditions are bound to affect and poison moral standards and the ending isadequately bleak and forbidding.
Thechoice of a strict visual style, all in fixed frames with the camera nevermoving around, establishes a kind of staccato pace, the plot progressing in aseries of almost imperceptible slight jolts, purposely never quite smooth orfluid, adding to the uneasy feeling generated by the story itself. Elkabetzseems to fully identify with her role as a hooker who fatalistically refuses toenvisage any other kind of life for herself, and Ivgi, one of the morepromising young talents of the Israeli screen, is touching as the daughter whohas to shoulder responsibilities way beyond her years.
Thedark, unglamorous portrait of the slum where they live is enhanced by LaurentBrunet's static camera and the precise framing hints at Yedaya's pastexperience as a still photographer. Her insistence of keeping the dialogue tothe necessary minimum is admirable - she is obviously familiar with thesubject, the emotional state of her characters and their background from herextensive research of the subject. But once the basic relations are establishedand the women's misery is clearly stated, she does not come up with sufficientmaterial to sustain the rest of the plot, leading down to its the inevitablygloomy end. Some tightening of loose ends might do it a world of good.
Prodcos: Bizibi,Transfax Film Production
Int'l sales: Transfax Films
Prods: MarekRozenbaum, Itai Tamir, Emmanuel Agneray, Jerome Bleitrach
Scr: KarenYedaya, Sari Ezouz
Main cast: RonitElkabetz, Dana Ivgi, Meshar Cohen, Katia Zimbris, Shmuel Edelman