'Aviva' doesn't have quite the write stuff

But Rotem Abuhav delivers a breakthrough comic performance in this family drama about a struggling author and her wisecracking sister.

aviv film 88 298 (photo credit: Gurman Communications))
aviv film 88 298
(photo credit: Gurman Communications))
AVIVA MY LOVE - ** 1/2 Written and directed by Shemi Zarhin. Hebrew title: Aviva Ahuvati. 107 minutes. In Hebrew, some prints have English titles. With Asi Levy, Rotem Abuhav, Levana Finkelstein, Dror Keren, Sasson Gabai, Natan Ravich, Dana Ivgy, Etay Turgeman An off-beat, well-acted and essentially likable film, Aviva My Love doesn't leave much of an impression, except in one respect: Rotem Abuhav's brilliant comic performance as Anita, the wisecracking sister of the heroine, Aviva (Asi Levy). Anita wishes she had children but can't seem to conceive, and copes with her frustration by helping Aviva, a gifted writer, find a published novelist to be her mentor. It's a slight story, but Abuhav's comic timing, warmth and presence light up the screen whenever she appears, and I wished she were there even more, although hers is a substantial part. She has done good work in the past, in both television and film (she's probably best known for another movie in which she played the heroine's sister, Turn Left at the End of the World), but this is her breakout role. What's left when Anita isn't around is Aviva's story, which starts out promisingly and gradually becomes more predictable. Refreshingly, the action is set mostly in Tiberias (rather than Israel's three largest cities, as is usually the case), where Aviva works as a cook in a hotel. Her real passion is writing, which she demonstrates by staring hard at objects, then taking notes which she writes up when her family is sleeping. (It's always amusing to see how movies portray writers working - it used to be that they would type a page, pull it out of the typewriter and crumple it up, and now it's usually an actor staring at a computer screen. In Aviva, it's all handwritten.) Her family is a mixture of kooky and sad - her mother threatens suicide a lot, but no one takes her seriously; Aviva's husband is out of work and she isn't sure how hard he's trying to get a new job; and her teenage children are sullen, angry, spaced out or some combination of the three. Then, through Anita's machinations, Aviva meets Oded (Sasson Gabai), a famous, arrogant writer who instantly recognizes her brilliance and promises to groom her for success. But things don't quite go as planned and, if you can't guess the ending, well, you should probably get out more. Asi Levy, who was so good a few years ago in the interesting French-Israeli film Stones, in which she played a married woman who couldn't tell anyone when her lover was killed in a terror attack, does her best here with a slightly phony role. The whole writer-mentor relationship, which is the heart of the story, doesn't quite ring true. The excerpts from Aviva's work that are supposed to demonstrate her genius aren't particularly impressive, and her blind faith in Oded, who telegraphs his untrustworthiness every time he raises his eyebrows, is frustrating. In the end, it's a tragic story about how good, talented people are used and abused, but it just doesn't add up to much. Writer/director Shemi Zarhin, who made the much more successful Hacochavim shel Shlomi (international title: Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomi), is still a filmmaker worth watching, but this isn't his best effort.