Shake your cares away with the new comedy 'Shake Your Cares Away', opening in Israel on Thursday

Shake Your Cares Away was executive produced by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Oscar-winning director of Birdman and The Revenant.

 ‘SHAKE YOUR Cares Away’ (photo credit: United King Films/Vadim Hodakov)
‘SHAKE YOUR Cares Away’
(photo credit: United King Films/Vadim Hodakov)

Sometimes a movie arrives in theaters at the exact right moment, and that is the case with Tom Shoval’s engaging new black comedy, Shake Your Cares Away, which opens throughout Israel on Thursday.

The movie, which is a loose reworking of the classic Luis Bunuel movie Viridiana, won the prize in the Haggiag Competition for Israeli Feature Films at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2021, which was a very competitive year, and also won awards there for its cinematography and score.

Shake Your Cares Away

In the summer of 2021, the pandemic was still affecting moviegoing, and Shake Your Cares Away is hitting theaters only now. But it turns out that this delay actually works well for the movie because it is a strong critique of economic inequality in Israel, told in a bold and entertaining way. While the current protests sweeping the country for the past few months are primarily focused on stopping the proposed judicial reforms, there is a mood now where many festering injustices are being discussed. Israel’s poverty level and government inefficiency at helping the poor, as well as corruption and the wealthy lifestyle of some politicians, have come in for criticism in speeches at many of the protests.

Shake Your Cares Away was executive produced by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Oscar-winning director of Birdman and The Revenant.

 Israelis gather to protest the judicial reform at the Knesset (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Israelis gather to protest the judicial reform at the Knesset (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Shoval made a splash 10 years ago when he won the Jerusalem Film Festival competition with his first feature film, Youth, about two brothers whose family is deeply in debt and who kidnap a wealthy classmate to raise money. Youth focused on some of the same themes, but Shake Your Cares Away is far more ambitious.

It stars French/Argentinean actress Bérénice Bejo (who was nominated for an Oscar for The Artist, and who has appeared in such films as The Man in the Basement and The Past) as Alma, a nurse who married her late patient’s husband, an Israeli billionaire who was recently killed in a car accident.

Apparently feeling guilty over her privilege, she invites a homeless family to live in the mansion she has inherited on the beach in Caesarea. They are quickly joined by dozens of their friends from the slums of south Tel Aviv, and they attract the attention of a brutal gangster, who was making a living by preying on the homeless in the neighborhood before Alma came along. He shows up and threatens Alma, who stands up to him and earns his admiration. But while caring for homeless gives her a sense of purpose, the people she has invited in eventually start complaining, become antagonistic and entitled.

Much of this plot recalls Bunuel’s Viridiana, considered by many to be one of the greatest films of the 20th century. Viridiana was about a novice about to take her nun’s vows who comes to stay with a lecherous uncle and eventually invites the village’s beggars to live with her in his mansion. Sensuality, a sense of sin and Catholic guilt are front and center in Viridiana, and they motivated the pure-hearted heroine in twisted ways, but in Shake Your Cares Away, Alma is frustratingly opaque. It’s hard to figure out why she is doing all this. Is she merely guilt-ridden, crazy, lonely, naive, or saintly? She is often tough and composed, and the homeless who are the beneficiaries of her hospitality don’t seem to understand her any better than we in the audience do.

But Shoval, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Dan Shoval, manages to keep the story moving along so stylishly and efficiently that while you’re watching, you may not think about any of this.

Bejo, who is always appealing, is convincing as the delicate figure at the heart of this story, and the supporting cast of criminals and beggars are excellent and encompass a range of types and ethnicities. The cinematography and a soundtrack that mixes all kinds of music keep the energy level high.

What works especially well is the jaundiced worldview, which is very reminiscent of Viridiana, where the underprivileged turn out to be as ungrateful and manipulative as everyone else. It’s an approach that rejects kitschy depictions of charity recipients and their benefactors, and it’s possible that it could even be seen as a cautionary tale for today’s protest movement, a sign that just having good intentions cannot fix everything that’s broken.