(photo credit: PR)
Israeli cinema has produced many films about disaffected teens in recent years, but Michal Vinik’s Barash adds a twist by featuring a lesbian romance as the main plot.
The movie seems to have been influenced by the 2013 French film Blue Is the Warmest Color. That movie tells the story of an inexperienced high school girl who starts a sexual relationship with an elusive, alluring young woman.
This is also the description of Barash, which is about a teen in the Tel Aviv area who falls in love with a sexy female classmate as a way of escaping her bleak world.
Barash differs from Blue in one way – it features a uniquely Israeli subplot, about how the heroine’s sister, a soldier, disappears from her army base.
Barash is part of a trend of Israeli movies in recent years about alienated high school kids, among them Tom Shoval’s Youth and Johnathan Gurfinkel’s S#x Acts. The movie, like many recent films, was developed at the Jerusalem International Film Lab at the Sam Spiegel Film School.
Naama Barash (Sivan Noam Shimon) lives in a nondescript Tel Aviv suburb. She has little interest in what she is supposed to be learning in high school; and when she hangs out with her friends, she mostly stands to one side, watching boys but rarely approaching them. When a new girl, Dana (Hadas Jade Sakori), a lively bleached blonde with interesting hair and makeup choices (she seems to have shaved an eyebrow and painted it back in green), comes to Naama’s school, Naama is instantly intrigued by her.
Dana, far more bold than Naama, offers to take Ecstasy with her, a 21st-century teen declaration of love, or at least strong like.
Their relationship quickly moves into kissing, sex and dancing at lesbian clubs in Tel Aviv. While we see a lot of both of the heroines (in every sense of the word), this is Naama’s story. Dana mentions that her mother has been hospitalized, but that’s about all the information we get about her family. Naama’s family life, on the other hand, which is shown in detail, is alternately boring and full of turmoil. Her father (Dvir Benedek, an extremely familiar face from television, movies including A Matter of Size and commercials) is relentlessly downbeat, badgering the rest of the family at dinner, while her quiet mother (Irit Pashtan) is not much of a presence.
When Naama’s sister, Liora (Bar Ben-Vakil), a soldier, doesn’t come home for Independence Day from her base, Naama’s father starts searching for her, dragging Naama along. It turns out that Liora is in Kfar Kassem with her boyfriend, an Arab, which scandalizes her family.
The subplot seems to be there so that her family, particularly her father, can demonstrate his narrow mindedness and display his entitled anger toward Arab policemen who try to help in his search. When Liora appears, we never really find out why she turned to someone from a different culture and can only surmise that, like Naama’s lesbian relationship, Liora’s boyfriend was a welcome relief from her stifling family.
The movie injects some social and political commentary into the film by opening on Memorial Day, which simply bores the high school students, and showing an Arabic teacher who is inexplicably confrontational. Naama has no interest in learning Arabic or anything else that is taught at school. She and Dana stand in front of a mural of the parting of the Red Sea at school as they make their plans, and the irony is clear, perhaps overly clear: They could be anywhere; their Israeli identity means nothing to them.
Barash has a strong naturalism.
Its protagonists seem like real kids, but the bleak backdrop of the story is at times negative to the point of tedium. The movie comes to life in the explicit sex scenes and the scenes in the Tel Aviv clubs. The subplot about the missing sister often seems like an unwelcome distraction from the romance at the center of the movie. The two lead actresses both give appealing and believable performances. Had the characters, especially Dana, been a bit more developed, the movie would be far more vivid and distinctive.’