A different – but dull – perspective

The "action" is too painfully slow and cerebral in ‘The Exchange’ to sustain the viewer’s interest.

man lying down 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
man lying down 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eran Kolirin became a force to be reckoned with in the Israeli film industry when his first feature film, The Band’s Visit, was released in 2007. The story of an Egyptian police band that gets lost in a forlorn Negev town and bonds with the locals, the film won more than 40 prizes all over the world, including awards at Cannes and from the European Film Academy. It swept the Ophir Awards but did not go on to represent Israel as an Oscar candidate only because more than half the dialogue – all the scenes between the Egyptians and Israelis – was in English.
In any case, the film’s young director made an impression both at home and abroad, and film lovers were anxious to see what he would do the next.
It’s been almost five years, and his second feature, The Exchange, is now being released here, after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival last fall and was shown at the Haifa International Film Festival. It’s unusual, though not unheard of, to see such a dramatic contrast between two consecutive films by a single director. Unfortunately, it’s not only the style that is different here but also the substance.
The Band’s Visit won so much acclaim because of its warmth and the touching emotional relationships between the characters. But The Exchange is an utterly cerebral film. It focuses on Oded (Rotem Keinan), a young, married physics professor who lives in what looks like a Tel Aviv suburb. One day, he forgets a binder and goes home in the middle of the day to find it. If you were expecting him to catch Tami (Sharon Tal), his wife, an architect who works at home, in the midst of an affair, you’re reading about the wrong movie. Oded simply becomes fascinated by how the world appears different at a different time of day and embarks on a series of adventures – rambles, really – where he goes all over his neighborhood and gazes at things differently. It reminds me of a short-story writing class I took in high school. About half the boys wrote stories like this (the girls’ work tended to run more towards mysticism or romance).
A master writer can maintain this sort of narrative for a few pages. But the movie goes on for 94 minutes. Oded is meant to become alienated from Tami, who discovers she is pregnant. He also finds a soulmate in his neighbor, Yoav (Dov Navon), a nudnik with similar interests in obsessing over changing details.
Unlike Oded, who is extraordinarily passive for the main character of a film, Yoav has ideas about how to proceed on this journey, and it involves things like walking around the building garage when no one is there. A very dedicated philosophy student might be riveted for the first 20 minutes. After that, it’s hard to imagine what kind of viewer could remain interested in this glacially paced film.
Kolirin has said in interviews that the idea for it came to him after he was away from home promoting The Band’s Visit. When he returned, he looked at everything in a new light. Most people can relate to that idea, but not to this film. If something in the story changed in a way that mattered or if Oded were a character we cared deeply about, then the shifts in his perceptions might matter to us. But Oded is a cipher. It’s as if Kolirin feared that giving Oded a personality (especially an interesting, quirky one) would detract from the mission of the film, which seems to be to encourage us not to take our vision of life for granted and to constantly look deeper at what is right in front of us.
While that may be a noble goal, the experience of watching the film reminded me of the scene in Annie Hall where Annie’s creepy brother reveals his fantasy of swerving his car into oncoming traffic, and Woody Allen responds, “I have to go now because I’m due back on the planet Earth.”
While I often enjoy cinematic journeys into other worlds and altered states of consciousness, I was very pleased to return to the planet Earth when The Exchange ended.