Ofir Raul Graizer, who made the Ophir Award-winning The Cakemaker four years ago, has made a second feature, America, which will be released in theaters throughout Israel on January 5. It’s an engrossing, low-key drama about three young Israelis who are drawn together and help each other through certain traumas that is extraordinarily moving. It’s not a movie that is easy to categorize and just when you think you have figured out where it’s going, Graizer steers his characters in a different direction, something that was also true in The Cakemaker.
Reduced to its most basic elements, America tells a fairly simple story. Eli (Michael Moshonov), who is in his 30s, left Israel years ago and is a popular swim coach at a busy pool in Chicago. He’s more interested in working with kids who are scared of the water than in coaching a competitive swim team. He seems to live a solitary, well-organized life and when he gets a message that his father has died in Israel and he has inherited an apartment, it’s hard to gauge how he feels. Asked by the lawyer if he and his father had been in touch recently, he says, “Not really,” but something in his voice indicates they were deeply estranged.
Returning to the empty apartment – his mother died years ago – part of him seems to recoil from the seemingly innocuous space. Moti (Moni Moshonov), the father of an old friend and Eli’s first swim coach, drops by to see how he is doing and invites him to see Yotam (Ofri Biterman), his old buddy, with whom he has also lost touch. It turns out that Yotam is now engaged to Iris (Oshrat Ingadeshet), a florist whom Eli previously met in her shop. The three begin to spend time together but a sudden, unexpected accident changes the dynamics among the three and allows a certain attraction between the two of them to come to the surface. There is real suspense in the story and so I am loathed to reveal any more of the plot specifics.
Although this might sound like a soapy story, America is far more than the sum of its parts. Eli is a survivor of horrific abuse by his father, who was a high-ranking police official. It turns out that Moti and his wife (Irit Sheleg) knew about the abuse but couldn’t get any help for Eli because of his father’s police connections. Eli eventually got into drugs and crime and his way of turning his life around was to go to America.
IRIS ALSO has a story of loss and alienation from the religious Ethiopian family she left when she was a teen. While many characters in dramas have a history of abuse and trauma, there is something about Graizer’s writing that makes the story fresh. As the characters talk about their pasts, you hang on to their every word because from very early on in the movie, you care about them. You are excited to hear them tell you the truth about themselves, the way you might feel flattered if a friend chose to confide a secret in you.
Another element that makes the movie engaging is the role of flowers and nature in the story. Iris found a way to love life through gardening. She expresses herself creatively and sensually through her connection to flowers and plants, they are like an extension of her body and a reflection of her soul. The extraordinarily beautiful cinematography makes these flowers seem especially lovely and more importantly, intriguing. There is something mesmerizing about the scenes where she is among flowers.
All of the lead actors are good and Michael Moshonov, a veteran of many movies including A Borrowed Identity, The Flood, and Lost Islands, has never been better than in this introspective role, where he conveys the character’s feelings of loss and the constant battle he fights between hope and despair. Oshrat Ingadeshet lights up every scene in which she appears. She has a graceful presence and an interesting face, which is narrow and looks as if it is almost too small to contain her features. She has a natural, unconventional beauty and is appealing in a waifish way. You want to look out for her, to comfort her and help her, but most of all, you want to stay with her.
The movie will be too slow for some viewers and at times, the plot seems a bit obvious and pat, as if Graizer were having trouble getting his story to the conclusion he already decided he wanted for it. But these moments pass and the freshness of most of what is on the screen will make you forget the more awkward sections.
America brought to mind this quote:
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”Faulkner
The characters’ struggle to find a way to love the world after all they have suffered is moving and will stay with you long after you leave the theater.