Dir/scr: Shira Geffen. Israel. 2014. 89mins
A gently hallucinatory fantasy, Shira Geffen’s second outing in Cannes after her 2007 Golden Camera award for Jellyfish tackles the Middle East conflict in a whimsical, airy manner that simply refuses to be nailed down by even the slightest vestige of realism. There is no actual plot to follow here, nor is there any attempt to analyse or take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. Instead, Geffen offers a long list of amusingly surrealistic comments about some of the more earnest issues around, and if some audiences might find it innocently endearing or cutely observant there will certainly be others who will balk at the vacuous portrait of a tragic conflict.
Geffen evidently feels that as long as she deals in fairytales, any need for normal continuity, character consistency or factual credibility is simply unnecessary.
In Self Made (Boreg) two women, an Israeli artist, Michal Kayam (Sarah Adler) and Nadine (Samira Saraya), an Arab woman packing screws in a department store called Etaca (a parody on the Swedish furniture giant Ikea) meet only for a brief moment at a checkpoint between Israel and Palestine. It happens towards the end of the film, they do not meet again, but their parallel fates are supposed to show how absurd, inhuman and ridiculous the entire conflict is.
When Michal’s bed breaks down, she picks up the phone and orders another one from Etaca, whose impeccable service delivers it instantly but without a crucial screw which should have held it all together. Michal complains, Etaca apologises, they promise adequate compensations and fire the person responsible for leaving the screw out, namely Nadine. And indeed, Nadine is sent home into the arms of her neighbor-lover Amar (Doraid Lidawi) who attempts to convince her she could be a celebrity if she becomes a suicide bomber.
Walking in a daze and unable to make sense of anything that happens to her, Michal is supposed to be the epitome of an Israeli generation harassed by everything and everyone, both as a woman and as an artist, running away from stability and responsibility, while Nadine would most likely represent the down-to-earth Palestinian struggling to get a life for herself, a family and most important, children, preferably in her own country and not in faraway Kuwait where her aunt would like to see her.
Geffen evidently feels that as long as she deals in fairytales, any need for normal continuity, character consistency or factual credibility is simply unnecessary. She can jump from one incident to another without having to explain why, her only obligation being to fit in relevant references, preferably in a playful tone, about the present and its incongruities.
Thus, she throws in a wacko German TV team ordering Michal around while interviewing her as if she’s on their pay and never listening to what she might have to say, a would-be suicidal bomber whose main concern is the shape of his hair, a checkpoint girl soldier who doesn’t give a damn about the political future of the country since she’s got only one more week to serve in uniform, and more of the same.
It all seems as if, exhausted by the unbearable earnestness of all the films dealing with similar subjects, Geffen chose to escape into fantasy, hoping to find there, if not answers, at least some kind of solace. Maybe she does, but not all of her audience will go along with her. Sarah Adler and Samira Saraya provide the two points she leans on all through her picture, but both seem a bit uncertain of the right notes they are supposed to hit.
Production companies: United King Films, Movie Plus
International sales: West End Films, www.westendfilms.com
Producers: David Mandil, Moshe Edry, Leon Edry
Executive producer: Michal Graidy
Cinematography: Ziv Berkovich
Editor: Nili Feller
Production designer: Arad Sawat
Music: Amit Poznansky
Main cast: Sarah Adler, Samira Saraya, Doraid Liwadi, Na’ama Shoham, Ziad Bakri