Hebrew title: Ha’noar
Written and directed by Tom Shoval
With David Cunio, Eitan Cunio, Gita Amely, Moshe Ivgy
Running time: 107 minutes
In Hebrew. Check with theaters for subtitle information.
Economic injustice and alienation among young people are growing problems in Israel, problems that Tom Shoval’s film Youth attempts to dramatize by showing a teenage girl being kidnapped, bound, gagged, beaten and denied bathroom privileges. The brothers who abduct her are so stupid that they don’t realize that her family observes Shabbat and won’t answer the phone calls they make to demand ransom money.
If you are still reading, it means you are probably curious to see how a movie with this plot won the top prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival last month. You might also be thinking that many good films feature objectionable and morally dubious characters. The Coen brothers’ Fargo is a case in point: It turns on a man having his wife kidnapped to extort money from his father-in-law. The truth is, the scenes of the woman being violently taken from her home in Fargo are extremely disturbing. But in Fargo, unlike Youth, the kidnappers are portrayed as evil thugs.
Here, the brothers are just a couple of kids who are concerned that their parents are having financial troubles and are about to lose their apartment. While families struggling with economic hardship are a subject with which everyone can identify, the casual brutality of these young men, and the lingering detail in which it is shown, is sickening. It adds nothing to our understanding of violence, rebellion, alienation or the injustice of capitalism. It is torture for the victim and torture for the audience.
Youth is a movie that may do well on the festival circuit, where often the bleaker the plot, the more successful the movie is. It certainly has potential as soft-core porn for sadists with a thing for teenage girls, a market that is probably larger than most of us would like to imagine.
Yaki (David Cunio), who joins the army early on in the film, and Shaul (Eitan Cunio), a high school student, make sure to target a lanky beauty, Dafna (Gita Amely), who looks good even with duct tape covering her eyes. They hold her in the bomb shelter in their basement, a highly symbolic location – a space meant to save lives is used by an IDF soldier and his brother to brutalize a girl in order to obtain cash – that emphasizes the decline of everything positive that people associate with Israel. The girl, while sympathetic, is a bit peevish and clueless, and the brothers are blank-faced and affectless. The threads that hold together the plot are suspense over whether the girl will suffocate because they have taped her mouth too tightly, and if the brothers will rape her.
That their father (Moshe Ivgy) and their mother (Shirile Deshe) are deep in debt and are about to lose their apartment in the (of course) anonymous suburb where they live is a common enough situation, and it doesn’t begin to explain the cruelty of the two sons. Perhaps if the brutality were depicted in a less clinical, less realistic way, their idiotic plot could be played for black comedy. But showing two young men beat and abuse a young woman is simple misogyny, no matter how much pretension you cloak it in.
There is an old joke about a movie that was so bad, it wasn’t released – it escaped. I would apply it to this stomach-churning film, but this movie isn’t escaping. It’s a prize winner that will most likely go on to further film festival glory. There are people who think that every film or work of art that portrays this country as a troubled place is anti-Israel. I certainly don’t agree. On the contrary, I think that the better and more complex Israeli movies are, the more likely that people will understand what life here is really like. So I don’t think Youth is anti-Israeli. It’s just anti-human.