woman crying rocket 298 .
(photo credit: AP)
Directed and written by Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz. 103 minutes. Hebrew title: Shiva. In Hebrew, French and Moroccan, with Hebrew and English titles.
Seven Days, the second movie written and directed by the Elkabetz siblings, Ronit and Shlomi, is a brilliantly acted, carefully thought out and heartfelt story about the tensions that pull apart a Moroccan family that is sitting shiva after the sudden death of a middle-aged brother. It is not a pleasant story, and, as the conflicts among family members escalate against the background of the first Gulf War, it demands a great deal from viewers and offers very little in the way of hope or redemption. Certainly, this makes it quite realistic but moviegoers will be forgiven for wondering why they have been asked to spend two hours listening to the angry resentments of a distintegrating family, even if they admire the cast and co-directors' skill.
This semi-autobiographical film clearly has emotional resonance for its director/screenwriters, who mined similar territory to greater effect in the 2004 film about the same family, To Take a Wife. That movie focused on the strains in the marriage of Vivianne (played by Ronit Elkabetz herself, a character she has admitted is based on her mother) and Eliyahu (Simon Abkarian). This intimate, even claustrophobic film, inspired by the naturalistic filmmaking of John Cassavetes, focused on Vivianne, who felt trapped in a marriage to a man she didn't love and who didn't understand or appreciate her.
In Seven Days, the focus is widened to the extended Ohaion clan, when one of Vivianne's brothers dies. The film is set a few years after the first one, also in Haifa, right in the middle of the Gulf War and at various awkward moments, the family is forced to interrupt its squabbling and don gas masks (this is the second time that a major Israeli film has used the SCUD attacks of that war as a device to heighten the tension -- the first was in the 1999 film, Yana's Friends, in which the characters wore gas masks in a love scene). But as the focus widens to include the many siblings and their spouses, unfortunately, the intensity diminishes.
The deceased brother, who died suddenly, ran the family business that supported most of this large group. Now, his factory faces bankruptcy and his widow, Ilana (Keren Mor), blames the rest of the family, whom she feels were insufficiently grateful for his generosity. She is also upset because one of her sisters-in-law (Yael Abecassis), was having an affair with her late husband, and Ilana no longer sees any reason to keep quiet about it. Vivianne, separated now from Eliyahu, is seeking a divorce that he refuses to grant her, and her most of her family take her husband's side.
Meanwhile, Ben Loulou (Gil Frank), another mourner, is interested in Vivianne, while a friend, Evelyne (Evelin Hagoel), still single, dreams of marrying Ben Loulou and spends every free moment at the shiva, hoping to catch his eye. But most of the film's memorable moments belong to Simona (Hana Azoulay-Hasfari), who has been nursing resentments against her family, particularly Vivianne, for years, and suddenly, during the shiva, finds she can no longer hide her bitterness and anger.
The cast features a large number of Israel's most celebrated performers, including Moshe Ivgy, Alon Abutbul, Hanna Laszlo, Albert Iluz and Ruby Porat Shoval, most of whom don't have that much to do. That's because, in spite of all the characters, the most intense focus is on Vivianne and Simona. These are the ones you'll remember after you leave the theater. Azoulay Hasfari won the Wolgin Award for Best Actress at the Jerusalem Film Festival (where the film also won the Wolgin Award for Best Feature Film), for her slightly showier performance.
But no matter how many other actors squat on the living room floor, make coffee in the kitchen or look out the window in despair, this is Ronit Elkabetz's movie from start to finish. This extraordinarily gifted actress, who recently starred in The Band's Visit, projects a diva-ish persona on screen and off. She is beautiful, but more than that, she has a face and body that the camera loves. When she is on screen, you don't want to look at anyone else. Here, as co-director and screenwriter, she has tried to relegate herself to a supporting role, but it doesn't work. Elkabetz is always the leading performer in any film in which she appears and her work seems to gain depth and subtlety every year.
A critical part in the renaissance in Israeli films is due to the high quality of its actors and no one in Israel today gives more impressive performances than Ronit Elkabetz. Although her role here is a quiet one, she gives the impression that the anger and sensuality building up inside of her are always about to burst out suddenly. Looking away from her is like looking away from a smoldering volcano: you, and the characters around her, do it at your own peril. But this well-intentioned film doesn't use her effectively enough to make up for its other flaws and as each character gets his or her turn to voice resentments, it becomes grating. There is some great acting, but in the end, it's not a great film.
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