Life: Not much to love

Alhough the movie means to say something edgy about sexuality and passion, in the end, it would not be out of place in a soap opera.

neta garty 88 (photo credit: )
neta garty 88
(photo credit: )
LOVE LIFE Directed by Maria Schrader. Written by Schrader, Zeruya Shalev, and Laila Stieler. Hebrew title: Chai'ey Ahava. 113 minutes. In English, with Hebrew titles. With Neta Garty, Rade Serbedzija, Tovah Feldshuh, Stephen Singer, Ishai Golan, Aryeh Moskona, Assi Dayan, Clara Khoury Sometimes, international co-productions involve actors, directors and writers from so many countries they result in films that lack any sense of place or authenticity. Love Life is a sad and disappointing example of this. Based on Israeli author Zeruya Shalev's acclaimed novel of the same name, it has been made into a German-Israeli co-production, with a German director and Israeli, Croatian and American actors, who all perform in English. The result is an unpleasant and unconvincing mess, in which there is scarcely a sentence spoken that sounds as if a human being would actually utter it - in any language. Set in Jerusalem, the film focuses on Ya'ara (Neta Garty), a young, married student. Her husband is supposed to be a terribly dull nice guy, but with Ishai Golan in the role, he seems attractive enough. In any case, after hosting a family party at which no one shows up, Ya'ara goes to visit her bitter, neurotic mother, Hannah (Tovah Feldshuh) and her nebbishy father (Stephen Singer). There, she runs into an old family friend, Arie (Rade Serbedzija), who has been living in France for years. There is instant electricity between them, and she is soon drawn into a sado-masochistic amour-foux with him. Although Arie is undeniably alluring (the rugged, distinguished-looking Serbedzija is an established character actor best known as the sinister store owner in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut), most of the film consists of scenes, meant to be erotic, in which he humiliates Ya'ara in increasingly unpalatable ways. Meant to identify with Ya'ara and become complicit in her bizarre passion for this handsome virtual stranger, most viewers will probably spend the film trying to decide whether Ya'ara should check herself into the nearest psychiatric hospital or just shoot Arie in the head (no jury on earth would convict her). In their first sexual encounter, he has brutal anal intercourse with her and then abruptly walks away, as if in disgust. For Ya'ara, his contempt and abuse is an aphrodisiac and she goes running back for more. He's certainly happy to dole out more and keeps upping the stakes as the movie gets progressively more grating and less plausible. Although the movie means to say something edgy about sexuality and passion, in the end, Arie's character reveals himself to have the most banal motive imaginable for tormenting Ya'ara - one that would not be out of place on a soap opera. Neta Garty does as good a job as she can, but her character is so passive and needy, it's hard to care about her. I'm also getting tired of movies in which having cold, self-absorbed parents is meant to explain and excuse all kinds of ridiculous behavior. Of course, it's fine to make a movie about a dysfunctional family, but it has to be interesting. I call it "the bus test:" If you were sitting next to these characters on a bus, would you enjoy eavesdropping on their conversation or would you get up and move to another seat? If I were on a bus next to Ya'ara and her parents, I would get off at the next stop. Feldshuh and Singer do the best with their thankless roles. Rade Serbedzija is certainly sexy and charismatic, but no actor on earth could pull off this badly conceived role. Another problem is the too-many-cooks spoiling the broth. Garty, an Israeli, speaks English and plays Israeli. Feldshuh and Singer speak American English and play Israeli, while Serbedzija has an indeterminate accent. Movies can get past a mish-mash of accents (many good ones have), but there is an ever-present artificiality here. The first-time director, Maria Schrader, an actress best known for her role a Jewish lesbian in Nazi Germany in Aimee & Jaguar (a movie well-worth renting), has said she wanted to make this movie because she felt passionate about the book. That's admirable, but the film probably suffers because she was directing in English, rather than her native German. It's hard enough to helm a debut film, and when you add a foreign language to the mix, it becomes even more difficult. The model for movies like this, of course, is Last Tango in Paris, in which a bizarre anonymous sexual relationship produces both crisis and catharsis for the characters. Love Life aspires to the heights achieved by Tango, but it doesn't come close, with no love lost.