(photo credit: PR)
The film Fire Birds is both a black comedy – a twist on the many Israeli movies about Holocaust survivors haunted by their past – and a more conventional detective thriller. The movie works best in its comic mode but gets bogged down when it switches to the detective plot to unravel a mystery that is pretty clear from the beginning.
The comic side of the film is what you will remember. It’s about Amikam (Oded Teomi), a con artist who poses as a Holocaust survivor so he can eat well at shivas and romance the widows.
It’s a great idea for a movie; and the film, directed by Amir Wolf, is a showcase for some of Israel’s finest veteran actors. Among them are Teomi, Gila Almagor, Miriam Zohar, Alisa Rozen and Dvora Kedar, who won the Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role.
Amikam, the central figure in the story, is a recognizable character. We have all known fatuous raconteurs who talk big and barely scrape by. Amikam, who went broke following a scandal in which he lost his business, reads the obituaries and heads off to funerals every day, claiming to the widows that he knew the deceased “back there,” and that they “cried together and dreamed together.” He manages to time everything so he eats all his meals at shivas. And he goes to dances held by survivors’ groups, where couples dance to Strauss waltzes. At one dance, he meets Olga (Gila Almagor), a lonely, retired doctor who makes dolls out of potatoes. At a funeral, he is charmed by Zisy Glik (Miriam Zohar), an actress who has a tough friend/assistant, Mrs.
Halperin (Dvora Kedar). The relationship of these two women mirrors that of the characters played by Bette Davis and Thelma Ritter in All about Eve.
Mrs. Halperin gets all the good lines, telling Zisy what to do and where she’s going wrong.
Amikam starts seeing both Olga and Zisy, and with Mrs. Halperin watching from the sidelines, he quickly gets into trouble.
The other plot — and it’s only too obvious from early on how these story lines will converge — involves Amnon (Amnon Wolf), a police detective who is trying revive a career that has been derailed, investigating a murder.
The body of an 80-year-old man has been found in the Yarkon. He has a concentration camp inmate number tattooed on his arm and had been stabbed several times.
The scenes with Amnon who, like virtually every other police detective in the history of movies, has an ex-wife he wants to reconcile with, slow down the movie, which is most interesting when it focuses on the survivors.
It’s a world most of us know exists but not one we have ever been part of. In the key line in the film, a character says, “Even to get into the most horrible club in the world, you need a membership card,” referring to the number on their arms. The script links Amnon to that world through his parents, who are also survivors.
The four actors — Teomi, Almagor, Zohar and Kedar — have a great time, and it’s fun to watch them. Zohar, an actress known mainly for her stage work, brings real presence to her part, and it’s very rare to see an older actress playing a character who is glamorous and attractive.
Very much in the spirit of All about Eve, she portrays an actress who is wonderfully talented but can’t help loving herself a little too much.
The four are well known for their stage work and have appeared in many Israeli movies, among them classics: Almagor in Sallah and The House on Chelouche Street; Teomi in Blaumilch Canal and Operation Thunderbolt; Zohar in The Schwartz Dynasty; and Kedar as a mother in the Eskimo Limon movies, as well as Operation Thunderbolt.
But the movie suffers from some cliched writing, a confusing timeline that mixes in flashbacks to no real dramatic effect, and an inability on the part of its writers/director to decide how much they want it to be funny and even romantic, and how much they want it to be a mystery and a melodrama.