Movie Review: Not much flavor in Bittersweet

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to an Israeli movie, another TAMP film comes our way.

movie audience 88  (photo credit: )
movie audience 88
(photo credit: )
BITTERSWEET Written and directed by Doron Benvenisti. 101 minutes. Hebrew title: Mar veh Matok. In Hebrew, some prints have English titles. With: Eyal Shecter, Safrira Zachai A group of Tel Aviv yuppies gather for a dinner party. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to an Israeli movie, another TAMP film comes our way. TAMP, an acronym I've coined, stands for: Tel Aviv's Miserable People. Just a few years ago, virtually every Israeli movie that wasn't about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a TAMP movie. That has certainly changed in recent years, fortunately, but examples of the genre are still made, and, more disturbingly, still funded (often with some government funds). Bittersweet, which features a cast of very talented actors, all of whom will be familiar to those who watch television and see films here, fits squarely into the TAMP genre. To review the main features of a TAMP film: 1. It is slow paced. 2. It is generally set mainly in a single, cramped apartment or more, with an occasional café or a park scene. 3. It does not focus on a single figure but on a host of unpleasant characters, often a family, who constantly fight with each other. Bittersweet focuses on several couples and the gimmick that shakes up their lives is the sudden arrival at their dinner party of a rather well-groomed street person, who says she is a fortune teller and will tell them all how many children they are going to have. This is especially dicy for Dana, a classical musician married to Ran, an investment banker. They have two children, but he doesn't know she is pregnant by her lover and laughs when the fortune teller predicts Dana will have three children. Bittersweet breaks with convention by including some appealing characters, notably David, an in-the-closet gay gynecologist (probably the first such hyphenate in the history of Israeli film, though possibly not the last) who struggles with his feelings for his male lover and his wish to live a more conventional life and marry a woman. When Ran sets him up with Daniella, his assistant, a woman who has grown weary of the dating game, David faces the most compelling dilemma presented in the film. 4. A feeling of hoplessness pervades the proceedings. There are few or no resolutions, catharsis, or moments of redemption, and very often, one of the main character's parents will be in a coma or suffering from an incurable disease (often one that leads to incontinence). In Bittersweet, Ran's mother, who has Alzheimer's, asks him to end her life. 5. If the dialogue were not in Hebrew, you would have no idea the film was taking place in Israel. In the Tel Aviv portrayed in these movies, no one ever watches or listens to the news on television or radio, and obviously there is never a discssion of politics. No one ever mentions any wars, the peace process, or terrorism and no one does reserve duty. 6. The acting rises above the level of the script and directing, and there will be many distinguished actors among the cast. Michal Yanai, for example, who is generally just pretty and perky on screen, actually gets a chance to act here in the role of Keren, Dana's musical partner, who is married to Leon, a lawyer who doesn't want children. 7. Various critical plot points usually remain unexplained. Why doesn't Leon want children? Why did Keren marry him if she wants children and he doesn't? This brings us to TAMP characteristic #8: 8. Except for the memory of the boredom you endured while seeing the film, the whole thing disappears quickly from your consciousness. You forget about the depressed characters as fast as you can. Only seeing another TAMP film may suddenly jog your memory. Of all the movies I saw at last summer's Jerusalem Film Festival, left the least impression. The odd contradiction in TAMP films, however, is that the director, in this case, Benvenisti, seems to have made this kind of a movie out of choice, rather than due to lack of talent. Quite a few of Israel's top directors have at least one TAMP movie on their resume. Perhaps Benvenisti will try another genre for his next effort.