Like Kokomo but Israeli

Lost Islands is one of those movies that audiences love and critics don't.

lost island (photo credit: Eyal Landsman)
lost island
(photo credit: Eyal Landsman)
LOST ISLANDS Rating: Three out of four stars Directed and written by Reshef Levy and Regev Levy. 103 minutes. Hebrew title: Ee'im Avudim. In Hebrew. With Oshri Cohen, Michael Moshonov, Ofer Schechter, Shmil Ben Ari, Orly Silbersatz Banai, Pini Tavger, Yuval Sharf Lost Islands is one of those movies that audiences love and critics don't. That's because it's the closest an Israeli movie has come to a slick, Hollywood comedy-drama, filled with nostalgia for a supposedly simpler time (it may come as a shock to some but 1980 is now far enough in the past to qualify). It's about a loving, rambunctious family where the members pause during their many loud, painfully honest quarrels to break into carefully choreographed - but supposedly spontaneous - karaoke-and-dance routines to vintage American pop. And the film, which is well-photographed and features meticulous production design rarely seen in Israeli films, stars a Who's Who of popular television and movie actors, including Oshri Cohen (Beaufort and Our Song), Pini Tavger (Sweet Mud and Our Song), Michael Moshonov (Tehillim and Parshat Ha Shavua), Shmil Ben Ari (Three Mothers and Meorav Yerushalmi), and Orly Silbersatz Banai (Broken Wings and Catching the Sky). All of them, but especially Cohen, are now American-style movie stars with devoted fans, who the producers are betting will pay money to see on the big screen. And Lost Islands may mark the arrival of a new phenomenon here, a critic-proof star vehicle, for which audiences will line up no matter the reviews. This is a healthy development for Israeli movies. For a film industry to truly thrive it needs to produce movies of all genres. Otherwise, viewers turn to Hollywood for romances, thrillers, mysteries, etc. and the local industry produces only a few art films destined to be seen mainly by critics, ushers, and directors' families. That was certainly the case here as recently as 8 years ago. But all of this has changed dramatically with Israeli movies winning prizes worldwide and having begun to draw local audiences as well, particularly with the release of Avi Nesher's Turn Left at the End of the World in 2004, which broke domestic box-office records. Another development is that there is now a real local entertainment media, with television shows and magazines that cover Israeli stars' romances, jaunts to the beach, and movie premiere appearances, as slavishly as their English-speaking counterparts follow Britney Spears. Reshef Levy, the writer and director of Lost Islands, makes his directorial debut after having written several movies and television series, including the film Colombian Love, a look at a young Tel Aviv couple and their friends that has some similarity in tone to Lost Islands. Like Lost Islands, it both celebrated and lampooned the characters' Israeli-ness. Lost Islands is reportedly a semi-autobiographical look at a working-class family, not coincidentally named the Levys. Based in 1980s Kfar Saba, the family consists of five brothers lovingly raised by devoted parents (Ben Ari and Silbersatz Banai) who put family loyalty above all. When the older brothers hit their rebellious teen years, they begin to question some of the education they have received from their parents, particularly their mother's fierce insistence that they must stick together through thick and thin. The main drama in the film concerns the rivalry between the teen twins, the brash and buff Ofer (Cohen), and the more introspective Erez (Moshonov), over their new classmate, the gorgeous Neta (Sharf). The competition between the brothers intensifies after their father is crippled in a car accident for which one of the brothers feels (with some justification) responsible. One brother devotes himself to the family and gives up his dreams (in this movie, as in so many, each character has exactly one neat and easily expressed dream), while the other lives out the dream his twin has given up on. If it sounds formulaic, that's because it is. This is why I say that critics won't love it. But, when done with flair, as it is here, audiences tend to love formula. What keeps the film from sinking into a swamp of soap-opera banality is the director's intense affection for his characters and his urgent need to tell their stories. Although it is hard to really care which brother Neta ends up with, you do enjoy watching them compete for her. The actors all shine in their roles and work well together as an ensemble. Cohen is playful and charming in the lead, though the role isn't much of a stretch for him. Moshonov gives an intense performance in the role of the more complex twin and has matured greatly as an actor in the year since Tehillim was released. No one is better at playing a stubborn blow-hard with a heart of gold than Ben Ari and Silbersatz Banai does solid work as the mother. Sharf is movie-star gorgeous and you can understand why two guys would fight over her for years. There's no way to know for sure, but I expect that Israeli audiences will embrace this movie. As for us critics, the movie wasn't made for us in the first place.