Scenes from a Tel Aviv marriage - review

While Michael pinpoints Tel Aviv as the source of his ennui, a visit to his familiarly dysfunctional family suggests many other causes.

SCENES FROM Marat Parkhomovsky’s ‘Tel Aviv’ with Meital Ner and Yotam Gotal. (photo credit: Helen Yanovsky)
SCENES FROM Marat Parkhomovsky’s ‘Tel Aviv’ with Meital Ner and Yotam Gotal.
(photo credit: Helen Yanovsky)

Marat Parkhomovsky’s debut feature film, Tel Aviv, is a well-done look at a bohemian Tel Aviv couple during a decisive week in their marriage and it is playing on a number of dates at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque throughout April and at the Jerusalem Cinematheque in early May.

The characters are vivid and seem real. But while the struggles they face are quite particular to a couple of central neighborhoods in the city that gives the film its title, the characters cope with issues that affect nearly every couple at some point.

Depending on your temperament, that will either make this film more meaningful for you or drive you to avoid it. I tend to have a low tolerance for movies that deal with couples that make each other miserable, so the fact that this movie held my attention for the full running time is high praise.

The movie opens with Dana (Meital Ner) and Michael (Yotam Gotal) at an OB-GYN appointment where Dana, who is pregnant, has just had an ultrasound. The doctor tells them that the baby is small and underdeveloped. It might mean that this is not a viable pregnancy or it could just be that she miscalculated the date of conception. The only way to know is to have another ultrasound in five days.

Although at first, it seems that the movie will be about of the pregnancy, soon it becomes a saga of other, deeper discontents. While some couples might be able to support each other in a positive way through this ordeal, the stress of this news reveals all the weaknesses in their relationship.

SCENES FROM Marat Parkhomovsky’s ‘Tel Aviv’ with Meital Ner and Yotam Gotal. (credit: Helen Yanovsky)SCENES FROM Marat Parkhomovsky’s ‘Tel Aviv’ with Meital Ner and Yotam Gotal. (credit: Helen Yanovsky)

Michael is a slightly chubby, soft-spoken guy, while Dana is a volataile beauty. The two are trying to make it in the arts and need help from Michael’s mother (Anat Atzmon) to pay the rent on their tiny apartment in central Tel Aviv. Michael has written a play that details his feelings of alienation in Tel Aviv that he is workshopping endlessly, while Dana has yet to finish her degree in directing from a theater arts college. He does some kind of work online that is never described, while she mentions that she works in an events planning business, but we never see her on the job.

They draw close and push each other away over and over during the next few days. She feels that they still should go out every night, while Michael says now that they are in their 30s, they can enjoy staying home more.

Eventually she heads out alone into the night after he declines to accompany her. Outside a club, she runs into a handsome guy from her acting class, who is now directing children’s TV show and lives in a sleek apartment, on his own, with no roommates, which impresses Dana.

As the days unfold, Michael meets a mutual friend to talk about her and it becomes crystal clear that he is the nice guy who was willing to commit to Dana, while she is still attracted to the sexier guys who will never be available for a serious relationship. While Michael blames Tel Aviv for their troubles, their issues are an archetypal version of what so many marriages go through.

In the essay Joan Didion wrote about Howard Hughes, she described the “bottomless gulf between what we say we want and what we do want, between what we officially admire and secretly desire, between, in the largest sense, the people we marry and the people we love” and that is very much the case with the characters in this film.

The movie is also notable for how it portrays those who come to Tel Aviv to try to make their mark in the arts. Michael has gotten Ohad (Ohad Shahar), a famous actor, to read his play, but Ohad is only interested in work with more commercial prospects. While Michael and his aspirations are treated with great sympathy, hearing him talk about his work is much more compelling than the verbose excerpt from the play we hear.

While Michael pinpoints Tel Aviv as the source of his ennui, a visit to his familiarly dysfunctional family suggests many other causes.

Yoram Gotal, who is making his screen debut here, gives an especially affecting performance as a young man trying to disprove the maxim that nice guys finish last. Meital Ner, who recently appeared in Take the A Train, a movie that premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival, has the more thankless role as a self-involved, histrionic woman who is not likely to value the good qualities of her husband until after he is long gone. The rest of the cast, which includes the director in a small role and Naama Preis as the actress starring in Michael’s play, are all excellent.

The young people trying to make a go of it on the arts scene in the world’s most expensive city and finding it a slog has rarely been portrayed so precisely. At times, Tel Aviv is reminiscent of tick, tick... Boom! about Jonathan Larson and the downtown theater scene in New York in the 90s, but it paints a much grimmer picture than the Netflix musical. While this movie is not always easy to sit through, Marat Parkhomovsky’s Tel Aviv is an accomplished debut film.