Scene from the film 'Alice'.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dana Goldberg’s Alice is an intelligent and thoughtful film about a mother who
cannot connect to her child and gets little pleasure from her family life. The
story is buoyed and brought to life by Ilanit Ben- Yaakov’s brilliantly nuanced
performance in the title role. Ben-Yaakov won the Best Actress award at the
2012 Jerusalem Film Festival, and the film won an honorable mention and an award
for Best Screenplay. One of the strengths of the film is that it features an
unusual work setting – Alice is a counselor in charge of the night shift at a
boarding school for mentally ill/delinquent teen girls – that counterpoints her
discontent at home and adds to her pain.
Alice is in her late 30s and
lives in an anonymous suburb with her husband, Yigal (Haim Znati), a plumber,
and her nine-year-old son, Eli (Itai Naveh). But since she works nights, she is
usually asleep when they are home and makes no particular effort to rouse
herself so she can spend time with them.
Her work is draining, since she
is in charge of a group of manipulative, emotionally needy girls, many of whom
have mental illnesses. On the job, Alice must project authority and confidence
at all times or the girls will sense her weaknesses and engage in all kinds of
forbidden behavior. While Alice barely has the energy to pay attention to her
sweet, well-behaved son in the most basic ways, at night she is virtually a
mother to more than a dozen of the most complex and difficult girls anyone could
She copes with the stress of reconciling her natural passivity
and depression with the need to face these girls with energy and selfconfidence
in an unsurprising way: She is having an affair with a coworker, Yoel (Amos
Shouv). When they think the girls are asleep, they sneak off to have sex. The
sex is passionate, but for Alice it’s clearly something more. She reads to him
from her journal and confides in him. In the back of her mind, she hopes
the affair will change her life and turn it around.
But the romance
distracts her. She becomes even less available at home and is less focused and
alert with the girls. She gets into conflicts with the girls and becomes
involved with trying to keep two of them, Neta (Darya Sheizaf) and Vered (Neta
Bar- Refael), from having a sexual relationship which is both against the rules
and destructive to the girls, who are so needy that this connection could be
damaging to them in the long run.
To reflect Alice’s depressed mental
state, Goldberg has shot the film in muted color. While this decision is
artistically sound, it makes the film even more unrelentingly bleak. While Alice
is brilliantly acted, well written and meticulously directed, it is certainly
not for all audiences.
However, it does raise the important subject of a
mother having a hard time connecting with her child, which is perhaps the most
taboo of all topics in modern Israeli discourse. While there is a certain
awareness about post-partum depression, anything more complex than a few bouts
of weeping in the first month of motherhood is not something women are
encouraged to discuss. The pressure to be fruitful and multiply, even among
secular Jews, is so pervasive in Israel that most Israelis probably have no idea
how overwhelming this pressure can be to someone who does not feel confident
that she can give love to a child. A woman like Alice might not have been pushed
to the breaking point if she had never had a child. While she did not
necessarily make the wrong decision by having her son, it is extremely difficult
for her to ask for the help she needs to be a good mother to him. The most
searing moments in the movie come when Alice realizes how much he needs her and
cannot respond to him.
Goldberg depicts this tragic conflict masterfully.
Those who are not put off by this film’s sadness will be rewarded by its
Written and directed by Dana Goldberg.
With Ilanit Ben-Yaakov, Haim
Znati, Itai Naveh, Amos Shouv
Hebrew title: Alice
Running time 82
In Hebrew. Check with theaters for subtitle information.