Dir: Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz. Israel-France. 2008. 115mins
In Seven Days, the Elkabetz siblings catch up with the two protagonists from their remarkably successful debut, To Take A Wife. Three years after they separated, Viviane (played by Ronit Elkabetz) and Eliahu (Abkarian), are reunited under one roof for the seven days of Shiva, the Jewish wake for the death of a close relative - in this case, Viviane’s older brother Maurice.
In what is once again a claustrophobic chamber piece, the camera is symbolically drawn back to show not only the tensions between Viviane and Eliahu, but the intricate fabric of an entire family squeezed together for a whole week, bristling under the pressure of traditions that have to be observed and nursing old resentments that have never been aired. This is an ambitious undertaking, dealing with so many characters and perhaps too many crises, and the plot is ultimately too thin, lacking the forceful, concentrated impact of To Take A Wife.
Sporadically moving and seemingly based on the directors’ personal experiences, Seven Days looks authentic and rings true but is insufficiently focused to draw the audience further in than sympathetic bystander status. A stellar cast in Israeli terms, including Moshe Ivgy, Keren Mor, Yael Abecassis and Hanna Laszlo will easily open the film at home but its chances outside are riskier to predict.
The background is once again a large family of Moroccan Jews living in Israel, still moving fluidly between Hebrew, Moroccan Arabic and French. They all congregate in the house of the late Maurice to pay their respects to the dead and wait for neighbours and relations to come in and offer their condolences. But since the story takes place during the 1991 Gulf War, under the threat of Saddam Hussein’s missiles, few people show up for the occasion, leaving the family to its own devices - gas masks within easy reach should they be needed.
Once the grieving formalities are over, the Ohayon familymembers soon start revealingtheir real nature. Viviane can’t stand her estranged, passive-aggressive husband, Eliahu. Viviane’s sister, Simona (Azoulay-Hasfari) sulks; her brother, Haim (Ivgy) is facing bankruptcy; and his wife Ita (Laszlo) demands he return the money taken from her family. The other brothers are concerned but don’t rush to help. Meir (Ilouz) is running for mayor; Itamar (Aboutboul) would sell his home but his wife won’t let him; David (Ohayon) offers to sell his but doesn’t have much to sell. Jacques’ wife, Lili (Abecassis) who had been in love with the late Maurice, can’t stand being in the house next to his widow, Ilana (Mor), while a friend of the family, Ben Loulou (Frank) offers to help because he is infatuated with Viviane.
And there’s plenty more to come. There are angry, spiteful altercations while the confined space, the Gulf War and the obligation of Shiva allows no easy escape.
Competently directed but written and performed more like a stage play, the plot runs in circles instead of moving towards a distinct goal, although there are some good touches. To underline the lack of privacy, Yaron Scharf’s camera uses mostly wide angles, and no character is ever left alone in the frame for very long. The confrontation between Elkabetz and Abkarian and her clash with Azoulay-Hasfari are the most sustained scenes in the film, and Solika Kadosh, as Maurice’s old mother, is by far the most persuasively tragic figure.
July August Productions
Les Films du Losange
(33) 6 75 13 05 75