film reel 88.
(photo credit: )
Hebrew title: Bekarov Yikre Leha Mashehu Tov (Soon, Something Good Will Happen to You)
Directed by Eyal Shiray. Written by Uzi Weill. In Hebrew.
With Assi Dayan, Adam Hirsh, Tinkerbell, Shraga Harpaz, Razia Israeli, Yuval Semo, Eliran Caspi
As a showcase for Assi Dayan, who plays an embittered, elderly Communist hiding out in a crumbling building in Haifa while making a living selling marijuana, Comrade is worth watching. Playing a character significantly older than he actually is, Dayan is riveting, and proves to be one of the greatest character actors in Israeli cinema. His performance in Comrade caps several years of outstanding work in a variety of roles, particularly in two films by Joseph Cedar: Time of Favor (HaHesder), in which he played a charismatic right-wing extremist rabbi, and Campfire (Madurat Ha-Shevet), where he was a nebbishy settler leader, and as the confused psychologist on the television series Therapy (Be'Tipul). In Comrade, with a shaven head and deathly pallor, he is nearly unrecognizable, and will remind you of every bitter old crank you've ever met.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn't live up to Dayan's performance, and whenever he isn't on screen, the movie is not nearly as compelling. Even Dayan cannot save the film's lackluster coming-of-age plot, or make its violent climax plausible.
The basic story concerns Ilan (Adam Hirsh), a teenage boy who leaves home and his domineering father (Shraga Harpaz) when he discovers his father has been hiding letters from his sister, Dalia (Tinkerbell). Dalia left home when her parents demanded she break up with an Arab she was dating. Now she lives on her own in Haifa and works on a cruise ship that holds parties in the harbor. Ilan simply shows up on her doorstep one day. She isn't home, but Avram (Assi Dayan), who lives across the street, invites him in and befriends him. Avram, who enjoys listening to Communist anthems in Russian and rails against the government, soon enlists Ilan to help him package the marijuana he sells. Avram's not a druggie, but enjoys doing anything illegal. Ilan, who is lonely, is happy to find a friend, even one as eccentric as Avram, who, in addition to his other peculiarities, keeps a small arsenal in his dilapidated apartment.
At the same time as he becomes close to Avram, Ilan also wants to be closer to his sister. He is jealous of her boyfriends, and their relationship begins to take on erotic overtones. This theme is not especially well developed. Since the film is based on a short story by Uzi Weill, who adapted it into the screenplay, it's possible that this theme is more fully explored in the story. Meanwhile, Avram, growing more paranoid, eventually decides to shoot up the neighborhood from his apartment. While it may be believable that someone like Avram would reach this point, what follows is quite unlikely. Ilan pretends to be a hostage and speaks to troops outside on a megaphone. In response, the police don't rush the apartment even though Avram wounds a soldier and a passerby. Instead, they let him stay there for hours, with plenty of time to make moving - if not entirely clear - speeches to Ilan about his outlook on life.
At a recent screening, director Eyal Shiray insisted there were no political overtones to the film, that Avram is simply a weird loner who doesn't represent anyone but himself. That may be, but the film would make more sense and have more impact if Avram were a symbol for the disenchanted Left, particularly for those who supported socialism and have seen the poor grow poorer as Israel moves from being a welfare state to a free-market economy. But for that to be clear, the director would have had to risk making a heartfelt statement, and that doesn't seem to have been his intention, or his style.
While Dayan's performance is amazing, the nominal lead actor in the film, Adam Hirsh, is not very expressive, but that may be due to how he was directed . Tinkerbell, one of the best and most appealing actresses in Israel, is pretty much wasted in a one-dimensional role. It's especially disappointing because she has not been in many movies since her memorable performance as the rabbi's rebellious daughter in Time of Favor.
In the end, Comrade is a one-man show, and the only aspect of the film that will linger in your mind is Dayan's performance.
A note on the title: In Hebrew, the film is called Soon, Something Good Will Happen to You. This has been a year for ironic, faux-happy titles, such as What A Wonderful Place and Joy (in Hebrew, One Must Be Happy). It goes without saying that these films feature stories of abject misery, squalor, tragedy and hopelessness. The cheap irony of the titles would be forgivable in student films but is grating in the work of presumably more mature directors.