FIVE HOURS FROM PARIS (ISR)
Directed by Leonid Prudovsky. Written by Prudovsky and Erez Kav-El. Hebrew title: Hamesh Shaot me Pariz.
In Hebrew and Russian. Check with theaters about English titles.
This is just the kind of intelligent, engaging small-scale drama that people love to see. Star-crossed love stories are usually touching, and this one is made with such deep affection for its characters and such a well-developed sense of place that it is irresistible.
Director and co-writer Prudovsky has made an assured feature film debut. His short drama, Dark Night, won awards at festivals all over the world and Five Hours from Paris, took the top prize for Israeli feature films at this year's Haifa International Film Festival. It stars Dror Keren as Yigal, a divorced cab driver in Bat Yam. His son lives with Yigal's ex and her new husband, an ambitious entrepreneur. Yigal has been left behind by the new prosperity and doesn't have the confidence to try his luck at anything new (he doesn't even have the courage to confront passengers who try to stiff him out of his fare). His biggest challenge is trying to overcome his fear of flying so he can accompany his son to his upcoming Bar Mitzvah celebration in Paris.
As he works to conquer his phobia, his life changes when he meets Lina (Helena Yaralova), his son's music teacher. She is beautiful, sexy, passionate about music and currently at loose ends, since her husband has gone to Canada to try to get a license to practice medicine there. The plan is that they will both move once he succeeds, but she doesn't seem eager to go. She has friends in Bat Yam and she likes her job. It's a little pat when the two discover they enjoy French love songs and bond over this, but it works because they have other things in common, such as their lack of burning ambition and their ability to enjoy the moment. A very tentative and utterly believable romance begins between them, which is complicated by the fact that she is married.
A film like this rises and falls on the talent of its lead actors, and Dror Keren and Helena Yaralova rise to the challenge. This should be a breakout role for Keren, who has worked extensively in television but has not had many major film roles. It's rare that an actor can be both so likable and so low-key at the same time, but Keren pulls it off. He just seems like a real person. Days after I saw the film, I kept thinking of things his character had said, as if I had heard them from someone I knew, and only after a moment remembered that he was fictional: This is perhaps the greatest praise you can give a performance.
Helena Yaralova, who won't be a familiar face to most moviegoers, is also appealing and believable as Lina and audiences will have no trouble understanding why Yigal falls for her. Vladimir Friedman, who plays Grisha, Lina's husband, takes a role that could be a dull stereotype - the hot-headed, arrogant doctor husband - and makes the character both entertaining to watch and sympathetic. After all, he loves Lina too, and is weighed by the real-life frustrations that every character in this movie must contend with.
While the actors soar, the script is far from flawless and suffers from a few third-act problems. Of course, we want Lina and Yigal to end up together, but it's hard to see Grisha hurt. The filmmakers try to find a way around this, but they go for an unsatisfying resolution. The script also raises some questions, only to drop them. For example, Lina says she never really wanted to be a professional musician but then becomes improbably upset when her friend's daughter, whom Lina teaches, isn't accepted to a youth orchestra. This hints at frustrated ambitions Lina (and the script) doesn't acknowledge.
But these are minor problems. In spite of them, Five Hours from Paris is the kind of reality-based romance that Hollywood has all but abandoned and which is new to us - but very welcome - in Israel.