Missing the mark

The Israeli black comedy ‘Single Plus’ is minus laughs and compassion.

Single Plus (photo credit: Courtesy)
Single Plus
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Written and directed by Dover Kosashvili.
Hebrew title: Revaka Plus
Running time: 90 minutes.
In Hebrew. Check with theaters for subtitle information.
Dating in Israel – especially for a childless, 30- something woman without any serious prospects of marriage – is no laughing matter, which is probably why director Dover Kosashvili has chosen to make a black comedy, Single Plus, about it. Kosashvili likes to shake up audiences, even to shock them.
His debut film, Late Marriage, also a darkly comic look at pressure to marry (on a young man in the Georgian community, where Kosashvili is from), featured a long, extremely graphic sex scene that was the most explicit ever seen in a serious Israeli movie.
In Single Plus, the centerpiece/shocker is a brutal rape scene played for laughs. If you haven’t stopped reading after that sentence, you’ll be surprised to know that Kosashvili is talented and almost pulls this off, just as Pedro Almodovar nearly pulled off a similar scene in his movie Kika.
Almodovar seems to have been a strong influence on Kosashvili in Single Plus. But Kosashvili’s heart isn’t in the campiness of it all, as Almodovar’s is, and so Single Plus just comes off as a stylized, unpleasant look at characters that aren’t very realistic or compelling.
Still, it has its moments, and most of them are provided by Yael Tokar, who plays Zehava, the heroine, and how she reacts to the chaos around her. Zehava is a teacher at what may be the worst-run preschool in the world, and the comedy with the venal headmistress who wears a different color wig in nearly every scene is often very funny. But the premise of the movie is not funny: Zehava’s mother (Ruby Porat Shoval, who has aged well and wants you to know it) has been diagnosed with cancer, but she won’t start her treatment until Zehava gets pregnant. Zehava protests a bit, but eventually she goes along with her mother’s crazy request as meekly as a sack of potatoes about to be boiled.
The series of disastrous dates is predictable, but the anal rape by a guy who seems too good to be true at first, then knocks out two of her teeth when he is done with her, is not. Eventually, after various attempts at farce and social satire, the script introduces a couple, Mica (Mickey Leon) and Dalia (Michal Yannai), who need a surrogate mother to conceive.
They are wealthy Tel Aviv yuppies, by turns crassly materialistic and New Age touchy-feely, and they agree to include Zehava in their family unit.
By the time Mica and Dalia arrive, though, it doesn’t matter how flawed they are as characters because the director has already lost the audience. The crazy demand from the crazy mother – that Zehava become pregnant ASAP – only gets the movie so far.
Clearly, any daughter who would try to fulfill this demand – and on her mother’s terms (the mother insists that Zehava not use a sperm bank, probably because if the young woman had, there would have been no story) – has some mixed feelings of her own about having children. A black comedy that explored those feelings instead of pretending they didn’t exist might be funny.
The rape scene got a great deal of press, as Kosashvili claimed he was told to tone it down. He protested in a way that indicated that anyone who was offended had no sense of humor. Let’s not confuse not finding a violent rape scene funny with lacking a sense of humor. The lack of empathy for his heroine that Kosashvili displays in that scene and its aftermath is the key to why the entire film doesn’t work. Zehava is an exaggerated version of countless Israeli women who were raised to please their families and society, not themselves. But there’s no way Kosashvili can see or show how worthy she is of love when he’s bashing her around so much.
While I’m not saying that only women can make good films about other women, I hope young female Israeli filmmakers will take this film as a challenge to find a way to tell their own stories. Male filmmakers have dominated the last decade in Israeli film, and with luck we can look forward to more movies by women in the years to come.