The second part of Yaron Shani’s ’Love Trilogy’ sees a cop struggle with family life

Chained

#*#*SourceInfo*#*# Berlinale

Chained

Dir/scr: Yaron Shani. Israel 2019. 112mins

The method is more interesting than its result in the second part of Israeli director Yaron Shani’s ‘Love Trilogy’, which premiers in the Berlin Panorama sidebar just six months after part one, Stripped, unspooled in Venice. Working over the course of the year with non-professional actors who were never given a script to read, developing a storyline that coincides with their own lived experiences at several points, Shani delivers a film that wears authenticity as a badge of honour, generating a series of tender, credible, human moments, but fails to engage as a convincing drama. It feels a little like a string of acting workshop exercises that have been edited into an undernourished story, one that jars especially in an unconvincing final denouement.

Male violence seeps into every crack and crevice of Rashi’s world

The director has stated that he envisages the three films of the Love Trilogy being viewed either separately or together, in any order (the third, Reborn, is currently in post-production). It’s likely that most of those views will be in further festival contexts, at least outside of Israel.

The core story centres on a veteran Tel Aviv policeman, Rashi (Eran Naim), who is accused of sexual harassment after stopping and searching a group of well-connected teenagers suspected of peddling drugs in a city park. At the same time, he and his partner Avigail (Stava Almagor) are planning to start a family – or rather to extend one, as Avigail already has a precocious 13-year-old daughter, Yasmine (Stav Patay), whose desire for freedom and burgeoning sexuality bring here into head-on conflict with her stepfather.

Shot with hand-held intimacy, much of the time in close, warm contact with a family that lives in a cramped apartment on what looks like a tight weekly income, Chained opens on a scene set in another seemingly ordinary Tel Aviv flat where Rashi and a fellow cop discover that an army vet father has been physically and mentally abusing his two adolescent sons. Male violence seeps into every crack and crevice of Rashi’s world: straight after apprehending those kids from ‘good families’ in the park, he’s called out to a scene of carnage: two youngsters killed by a father who then committed suicide, an act of revenge against a wife who has started divorce proceedings. Meanwhile, TV reports of a serial rapist – a key plot-spring of Stripped – rack up the unease.

Two key dramatic scenes pit Rashi against Yasmin and, eventually, her mother; the first set in a fashion studio that is putting together a modeling portfolio for the teenager, the second sparked by Rashi’s discovery of his step-daughter drinking in a park with older boys. Though intense, these high-volume rows add little to the dramatic bone structure of a film that seems almost to lose interest in the harassment charge that has caused Rashi to be grounded, on paid leave, while the investigation takes its course.

It’s true that all Rashi’s woes derive, in the end, from some over-controlling male gene in the DNA or culture of a man whose idea of a rapprochement with Avigail after she has sent him back to live with his mother for a while is to criticize her for getting her hair cut without telling him. He hangs out with a couple of macho former army mates who are “there for him”, he has police buddies trace his daughter’s phone and follow his wife to a hospital appointment.Is it Rashi who is ‘chained’ or the partner and step-daughter he smothers and alientates with his tough love?

Presumably it’s everyone in this coercive society, but the message come across muddled in a film that fails to water most of the thematic seeds it scatters, or to generate much sympathy for a hero – or anti-hero? – whose problems seem so self-inflicted.

Production companies: Black Sheep Film Productions

International sales: Alpha Violet, info@alphaviolet.com

Producers: Saar Yogev, Naomi Levari

Editing: Yaron Shani

Cinematography: Shai Skiff, Nizan Lotem

Main cast: Eran Naim, Stav Almagor, Stav Patay, Asher Ayalon, Yanic Assaraf, Yaniv Dimri, Udi Ohana