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YEAR ZERO - **
Directed by Joseph Pitchhadze. Written by Pitchhadze and Dov Stoyer. Hebrew title: Shnat Effes. 131 minutes. In Hebrew.
With Moni Moshonov, Sarah Adler, Menashe Noy, Keren Mor, Danny Geva, Ezra Kafri, Uri Klauzner, Dan Toren
We all have dreams, and one of mine is to see a movie about a blind man who doesn't turn out to have deep insight and wisdom - in other words, in which the blind man is not the only one in the film who can truly "see" things. There are a couple of other movie variations on the wise blind man cliche', such as the crusty blind man who only reveals his heart of gold and earthy wisdom at the end (Scent of a Woman is one of these). I'm hoping for a movie about a blind man who just happens to be a self-absorbed jerk, because I'm sick and tired of sightless saints. But I did not get my wish in Joseph Pitchhadze's latest film, Year Zero, which consists of several overlapping stories of people in Tel Aviv, one of whom is Eddie (Moni Moshonov), a blind man who works as a massage therapist. Dressed in white, practicing tai chi as his cute dog watches or learning tribal dances from his adoring African housecleaner, he is the one character who is in touch with his soul amidst the alienation of modern day Tel Aviv. Moshonov, one of Israel's most versatile and talented actors, is certainly fun to watch, but even he can't rescue this role from being a maudlin cliche'.
The blind massage therapist sets the tone for the entire movie, which was originally shown at the 2004 Jerusalem Film Festival and has languished for a year and a half. It's a shame that the movie gets so bogged down by Eddie and several other cliche'd storylines, because Pitchhadze gets good performances from his stars and has assembled a cast of some of Israel's finest actors.
In addition to Monoshov (Late Marriage), the film stars Menashe Noy (Henry's Dream, A Gift from Heaven), Keren Mor (Joy) and Sarah Adler (Notre Musique). The movie suffers from the disease that used to afflict virtually every movie made here, which I've dubbed "group-itis," in which a film focuses on a large group and presents only superficial portraits of the characters. There have been great films with huge casts, such as Robert Altman's Nashville, but generally, the more characters, the more likely a film will be unfocused and overlong, as is the case here. Year Zero has moments and scenes that work well, but they never have time to build, since the director always has to cut away to another storyline before anything gets resolved.
The basic plot involves the usual group of depressed Israelis, lost in Tel Aviv. Sarah Adler plays Anna, a single mother who turns to prostitution when she is evicted from her apartment for not paying her rent. It is now de rigueur for films about alienation in Tel Aviv to include a character who is a prostitute. As in virtually all of these films, Anna has no one to whom she can turn for help, no family and no friends. In order to make a better life for her cute, wise-beyond-his-years son, Zuki (Zuki Ringart), she starts streetwalking, where she picks up equally alienated clients who all have some tragic/comic fetish. Eventually, she begins a romance with an alienated arms dealer (Dan Toren), but that ends tragically.
Reuven (Noy) is the alienated real estate broker who evicts Anna. He also runs over and kills Eddie's dog and ends up befriending Eddie to try to make amends. Eddie forgives him in that saintly way movie blind men do and helps Reuven overcome his alienation by doing life-affirming things with him, like going on the bumper-car ride at an amusement park and teaching him to bake cheesecake. Michal (Mor, Noy's real-life wife), is a fashionable editor at a radio station who unexpectedly discovers she is pregnant, although she had promised her husband they would never have kids. At the radio station, she is friendly with Kagan (Danny Geva), a mournful but handsome sound engineer who has put together a program about his late father's groundbreaking punk rock band that the money-grubbing station manager (Uri Klauzner) refuses to air. Kagan is visiting his father's grave when he meets Robinson (Ezra Kafri), one of his father's former partners in the band, who helps him get his life on track.
It's a tribute to the skill of the actors that they breathe some life into these tired storylines, but there's only so much they can do. Anyone familiar with the films of Jean-Luc Godard will see his influence here, particularly his film, Vivre Sa Vie, the story of a prostitute who sells her body but guards her soul. In fact, Sarah Adler even starred in a recent Godard film.
Pitchhadze's last feature film, Besame Mucho, a multi-character gangster film, played like an extended homage to Quentin Tarantino. Although Year Zero gets bogged down in pretension and cliche', Pitchhadze is an ambitious director worth watching. Maybe his next movie won't be so much an homage to Godard or Tarantino as a creation all his own.