(photo credit: Courtesy)
Written and directed by Arik Rotstein
With Alexander Peleg, Gila Almagor, Michael Aloni, Yishai Golan, Mickey Leon
Running time: 100 minutes In Hebrew. Check with theaters for subtitle information.
Once upon a time, the typical Israeli film was about a miserable family in a Tel Aviv apartment, with everyone screaming their resentments at each other.
Needless to say, no one wanted to see such movies, either at home or abroad. But to my surprise, Arik Rotstein has taken this genre and refreshed it with Antenna, a movie that takes this basic plot — a troubled Tel Aviv area family — and turns it into something that is well made, engaging and, at times, funny.
Rotstein, who has a background in Israeli television, whuch includes the iconic 1990s series Florentine, works well with actors and has created a character-driven contemporary story that is framed by an elderly man’s obsession with technology — hence the title.
Yehoshua (Alexander Peleg) is an octogenarian Holocaust survivor who lives with his wife (Gila Almagor) and meddles a fair amount in the lives of his three adult sons. Itzhik (Mickey Leon) is a career-minded army officer trying to live the Israeli dream but whose wife, (Hila Feldman), feels lonely and isolated, raising their kids more or less on her own.
Leon (Ishai Golan), a professor, is lonely after his divorce, while the third brother, Efi (Michael Aloni), makes ends meet by dealing marijuana.
Yehoshua has issues will all of them, especially with Efi, who has a German girlfriend, and he channels all his frustrations into an obsession with the fact that his neighbor has leased part of their roof to a cellphone company.
Yehoshua insists that it is radiation from the cellphone antenna that is causing his aches and pains and keeping him up at night. Much of the movie follows his war with his neighbor to get the antenna off the roof, which embarrasses his family and intensifies all their conflicts.
The film, which Rotstein wrote as well as directed, skillfully blends comedy and drama as the various characters try to live their lives in the increasingly long shadow of their father’s obsession, which will strike some as magnificent and others as misguided. Although Almagor, the first lady of Israeli theater and cinema, is on hand, it’s a story focused on men and how they choose to live in Israel’s complex day-to-day reality, where money and status have become increasingly important.
Itzhik deals with life by trying to get ahead at work and ignoring everything else as much as he can. Leon thinks a romance with a beautiful student (Daniel Gal) will turn his life around, but unlike most stories about this dynamic, it is he who ends up feeling hurt and betrayed. Efi finds his life thrown into confusion when his smart, beautiful gentile girlfriend gets pregnant. Her plight is poignant, as she fights for a place in his life, insisting on meeting his family. He is embarrassed by her in front of his father, and he tries to use his father’s disapproval as an excuse not to take her seriously. As the brothers work together to try to get their father to forget about the antenna, they both bond and bicker.
Some of Israel’s top actors take part in the film, several of whom will be most familiar to audiences from the small screen. Michael Aloni is best known for his role as Akiva in Shtisel, and here he is convincing in a very different role.
Ishai Golan has appeared in many of Israel’s top TV series, among them False Flag, The Gordin Cell, Hatufim (the series on which Homeland was based) and Tironut.
Mickey Leon also starred in False Flag, as well as several other series — among them Uri and Ella, Taagad and Meorav Yerushalmi — as well as many films. Alexander Peleg has acted in many movies, including Hunting Elephants and The Debt, and manages to make a very prickly character compelling in Antenna.
If the script is at times a little too pat, perhaps that’s a small price to pay for a movie that is entertaining enough to banish memories of the bad, boring old days of Israeli cinema.