Dir/scr: EyalHalfon. Is-Ger. 2005. 104mins.
Eyal Halfon's WhatA Wonderful Place, about the plight of foreign workers in Israel is a grim,angry and uncompromising drama. Three inter-related plots leading to violentfinal clash offer the bitterly ironic conclusion that Israel - or any othersupposedly liberal western country that treats its economic migrants in thisway - is anything but a wonderful place to be in.
Reminiscent of Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's James'Journey To Jerusalem and Amos Gitai's Alila and Promised Land,the acclaim and awards this corrosive drama won at the recent Karlovy Vary andJerusalem film festivals will certainly boost its international profile.
Further festivalsuccess certainly beckon but commercial success may be more elusive since, asthoughtful and earnest as it certainly is, What A Wonderful Place doesn'treally come up with any new insights into this depressing situation.
The first of thethree plot deals with a group of young Ukrainian women and the ex-policeman,Franco (Gavriel) who keeps an eye on them for a sleazy pimp in exchange forhelp in repaying his gambling debts.
The second has anoverweight farmer (Oria) whose Thai workers are terrorised by a nasty ranger(Hait), who is sleeping with the farmer's wife.
The third followsthe ranger's father (Graber), an unpleasant, paralysed old man, bound to hiswheelchair and his Filipino live-in carer Eddie (Bagatsing).
The situation isfurther complicated by Franco's genuine affection for one of the girls, Jana(Kaplun), and by Eddie's desperate attempt to get his wife pregnant whichcauses him to neglect his duties to his employer.
The three plots arecleverly tied up together but at least two are not completely successful. Thoughthey have their touching moments, too many of the characters are little morethan vehicles for the director's political opinions.
How much betterHalfon could have done is hinted by his treatment of Franco, the ex-cop whotries to juggle a normal family life with his gambling addiction, and thehonest human warmth generated by his friendship for Jana.
Uri Gavriel, usuallytypecast as the heavy in many Israeli films, gives a masterful performance(which won him Best Actor at Karlovy Vary), his threatening toughness temperedby a soulful sensitivity that the actor has never been allowed to reveal inprevious films. His is by far the most convincing and rounded character inthe entire film.
Other scenes aresadly too reminiscent of more recent fare. One segment, in which Ukrainiangirls are smuggled across the border into Israel, feels too much like a re-runof Promised Land, which had yet to even start shooting while What AWonderful Place was nearing completion. Despite being neatly shot andedited, such fiddling in the editing room has only seen Halfon's feature appearsecond to Amos Gitai's.
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