Movies: 'Our Father'

A violent, heavy drama.

November 17, 2016 21:39
3 minute read.
‘Our Father’

‘Our Father’. (photo credit: PR)

Hebrew title: Avinu
Directed by Meni Yaish With Moris Cohen, Rotem Zissman-Cohen, Alon Dahan
Running time: 90 minutes
In Hebrew.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.

Meni Yaish’s film Our Father (Avinu, also known as The Bouncer) returns to the milieu and themes of his previous movie God’s Neighbors: a workingclass Mizrahi neighborhood and a flawed but fundamentally decent hero who has to use his physical strength for violence.

But the violence in Our Father is far more intense, and the dilemma the hero faces – being drawn into a life of crime to support his family – is more conventional and ultimately less compelling.

The story is set in and around a nightclub where people drink heavily and fights often break out, so a big powerful man like Ovadia (Moris Cohen) is an important asset as a bouncer. Ovadia is a hard worker and an honest family man, qualities that the slimy club owner, Shalom (Alon Dahan), appreciates. Ovadia and his wife, Rachel (Rotem Zissman-Cohen, the actor’s real-life wife), who works as a cashier in a drugstore, have been trying to have a baby for more than five years. They’ve tried every medical treatment available through their health fund. In one of the film’s few darkly funny scenes, they go to an ultra- Orthodox rabbi to seek a blessing, where they are given some mumbo jumbo about having a good attitude.

Desperate to make enough money to get Rachel treatment at a top privately run fertility clinic, Ovadia accepts Shalom’s offer to work as a collector for his loan shark operation. We all know what that means, and the movie descends into a hellish collection of scenes of sometimes realistic and at other times stylized violence. The violent acts Ovadia commits show him a side of himself that he has always tried to restrain, a side that enjoys his physical power and his ability to inflict pain. When he wants to get out, it’s not so simple.

The problem at the center of this story is that we’ve seen it so often. The decent man who gets into crime and can’t get out is a cliche at this point, and the director can’t bring much that is new to this tale. The violence is relentless and disturbing, and throughout the movie, we know that something awful is coming when Ovadia tries to break free of the loan shark. But as the late New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael once said, dread is not the same as suspense.

The highlight of the movie is Moris Cohen’s performance in the lead role. He is utterly believable.

In a very competitive year, he won the Best Actor prize for the role at the Ophir Awards and at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer.

As in writer/director Yaish’s film God’s Neighbors, the external drama of the plot is secondary to the internal drama in Ovadia’s head, as he uses his muscles to earn a living while trying not to feel any pleasure at being violent.

For the movie to work, it is critical that we believe that Ovadia wants to stop being violent but is drawn to violence and on some level enjoys it. Cohen shows Ovadia’s conflict and self-loathing in a quiet, low-key performance that feels completely real.

The supporting cast is also excellent.

As Cohen accepted his Ophir Award just moments before Minister of Culture Miri Regev’s tirade at the ceremony about how filmmaking was the province of an upper-class elite, it was hard not to think that Our Father is exactly the kind of movie that Regev says is not being made and that she feels should be made. It tells the story of the other Israelis, the ones who live in Tel Aviv but who are outside the so-called bubble, whose lives revolve around minimum-wage jobs and being overdrawn at the bank.

They are also religiously observant without being fanatical, another quality not associated with Regev’s hated Tel Aviv elite.

Ovadia’s religious observance gives his dilemma about whether to use his physical power another dimension, a bit like the intense Catholic guilt that Harvey Keitel’s character feels in Martin Scorsese’s early masterpiece Mean Streets.

In spite of Cohen’s performance and the director’s obvious affection for and understanding of the hero, the movie becomes heavy and tedious, and it is an ordeal to sit through.

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