(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of the problems of being in high school is that it’s hard to believe it will ever really end. You feel like you will be stuck there forever. That feeling of helplessness and the anger it breeds are captured very realistically in Sophie Artus’s film Valley, which tells the story of three teenagers who bond to help each other through the toughest of times.
But Valley is a difficult film because its three protagonists, particularly the two boys, are exposed to so much violence, loss and cruelty, and the adults in their lives do little or nothing to help.
Although the setting is very different, in some ways Valley is reminiscent of the landmark US television series The Wire, particularly the fourth season, which was set partly in a middle school. Like The Wire, Valley focuses on a kid who seems at first like an impossible, disruptive loser; but gradually, our perceptions of him change until, by the end, we are on his side in every way and hoping against hope that his life will change for the better.
Neveh Tzur was nominated for an Ophir Award for Best Actor for his pivotal performance as Josh (the fact that he has an American name is never explained), a boy who is brutalized by his aggressive, seemingly psychotic older brother, Avi (Maor Schwitzer). Avi dreams of being in an elite army unit and hides the fact that he is gay. Their father is long gone, and their mother is not around much. There are rumors that she is a prostitute. Josh acts out in school, but it quickly becomes clear that he is basically a normal kid who is suffering greatly from the victimization he suffers from Avi. Josh tries his best to protect their younger brother, Danny, from Avi’s wrath, and dotes on his cute little dog Bobo.
When David (Roy Nik) comes to their high school in the middle of the year, Josh is hostile to him at first, but gradually a friendship develops between the two boys.
David, who is solitary and loves to read, has just moved to town with his father, a recently retired career army officer who teaches him to use guns. His mother is dead and apparently committed suicide.
These two lonely boys are drawn to Linoy (Joy Rieger), a strong, confident girl who is nurturing to both of them. While her character is less developed than theirs, she complements them and is, at different times, accessible and unattainable. Linoy dreams of being an actress, and in their small town she is unquestionably a star.
But even as these three friends draw together, Avi’s malevolence and other pressures of teen life come between them, and the story moves toward a tragic conclusion.
Although it may sound irredeemably downbeat, the characters, particularly Josh, are so vivid and real that it rises above the pointless misery of so many indie films.
Neveh Tzur is a real find, and he brings Josh’s charm, frustration and cluelessness to life. Joy Rieger, who also appeared in the silly television series about a male escort service, Johnny and the Knights of the Galilee, will star in Avi Nesher’s upcoming movie, Past Life. She is beautiful, but she also has real screen presence. You can see her planning her next move, trying to decide how seriously she wants to take these guys.
As Avi, Maor Schwitzer is utterly convincing as one of the scariest and cruelest characters in recent Israeli cinema. Even in one of the rare scenes when he stays calm, Avi is a frightening presence, and you believe he is capable of anything.
There have been a number of movies over the last few years about alienated young people in Israel, among them Tom Shoval’s Youth and Johnathan Gurfinkel’s S#x Acts, where teens live with minimal adult supervision and where violence and cruelty are the norm. These movies are sad and dispiriting, but apparently they reflect the reality that life can be as difficult for Israeli teens as it can for their peers anywhere on the globe. Sophie Artus’s carefully observed and moving Valley paints a bleak picture of the cold new world in which they live.