Movie Review: Fine tuning

The more sympathetic you are to social commentary behind the story the more you will get out of this film.

Man touching pregnant woman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Man touching pregnant woman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Restoration is an accomplished, meticulously crafted, well written and beautifully acted film, but it’s so carefully conceived and heavily symbolic that it’s a bit cold. The more sympathetic you are to the social commentary behind the story and the more you enjoyed analyzing the major themes in literary works in college courses, the more you will get out of this film. It’s certainly been a major success both abroad and in Israel, winning the Best Picture Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the Best Screenplay award at Sundance, and the Grand Prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic. But it’s a film that’s easier to admire than to love.
The movie is set in a changing Tel Aviv, and director Yossi Madmoni and screenwriter Erez Kav-El are not happy about these changes. The film takes place in and around a furniture restoration workshop owned by two partners. Ya’acov Fidelman (Sasson Gabai) is a quiet, thoughtful man who takes great pride in his craftsmanship, but it is the more social Malamud who brings in the business. Right at the beginning of the film, Malamud dies suddenly and Ya’acov finds himself adrift. Malamud has left his half of the business to Ya’acov’s son, Noah (Nevo Kimche). Noah and Malamud were always closer than Noah was to his own father, in a way that made Ya’acov feel shut out.
The shop has run up debts, and the sensible thing to do would be to close it and sell the property to developers. That’s the course of action that Noah, a lawyer proposes. Noah’s wife, Hava (Sarah Adler), is pregnant, and Noah is eager to earn enough money to provide a good life for his child. Even with his salary as a lawyer and Hava’s as a costume supervisor at a theater, they have trouble making ends meet – they’re the kind of people you might find this week sleeping in tents on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.
But Ya’acov rejects the suggestion, even if it would give him enough money to set up another workshop. This is a universe where any kind of business initiative is seen as evil and tainted, and any work done by hand represents all that is good and pure in the universe. Never mind that the vast majority of Tel Aviv’s elderly widowers would be green with envy over Ya’acov’s option to make some money, keep his business going and help his son and soon-to-be born grandchild.
Into this mix comes the unstable element that shakes everyone up and creates a plot – Anton (Henry David). He is a handsome drifter on the run from everyone, including his own family. With barely a shekel to his name, he is happy, and even eager, to become Ya'acov’s apprentice. Anton discovers an 1882 Steinway piano in the back of the shop that may be the answer to all Ya’acov’s financial problems, if it is restored correctly. The work on this instrument is the central metaphor of the movie: If the piano is brought back to life, so will Ya’acov be. By using what had seemed to be a piece of junk to create a lifeline for his business, he will triumph over his self-important son and the capitalist interests his son represents. And, in the lifelong rivalry with Malamud, this will represent a clear victory.
But this isn’t a simple, feel-good movie, and there are no easy answers here. The part of the movie that works best and creates the most suspense and excitement is the sudden and surprising passion that develops between Anton and Hava. Here, the film breaks free of the bonds of its carefully imposed design. There is real chemistry between Henry David and Sarah Adler, two superb actors. David, who recently appeared in Rabies, creates a sense of danger and barely suppressed rage throughout his scenes. He is so good, you can almost stop wondering about all the unresolved plot threads concerning his character.
To paraphrase the late New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, most movies give so little, it might seem petty to criticize such a thoughtful and well-made film for not giving more. But while the performances of Adler and David are vivid and moving, the rest of the film fades quickly from memory.