Film Review: ‘One Day and a Week’ touches on the aftermath of a shiva

Polonsky manages to tell a universal story it in a way that is engaging and not so bleak that audiences will want to stay away.

‘One Day and a Week’ (photo credit: PR)
‘One Day and a Week’
(photo credit: PR)
Hebrew title: Shavua Ve’yom
Directed by Asaph Polonsky With Shai Avivi, Evgenia Dodina, Tomer Kapon
Running time: 98 minutes In Hebrew.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.
The Jewish custom of shiva, the seven-day mourning period for a family following a death, is one of the religious laws that is observed by observant and secular Jews alike. It makes sense to take this time to honor the memory of the person you have lost, and friends and family know how to help.
Asaph Polonsky’s moving, deceptively simple film One Week and a Day looks at that supremely difficult day after the shiva ends.
There is no playbook for this day.
It’s the time that you realize that life will never go back to normal and that you are now facing an eternity of a new, and unwelcome, kind of normal.
It’s a universal story, and Polonsky manages to tell it in a way that is engaging and not so bleak that audiences will want to stay away. He even finds some black comedy in this story of sorrow, without betraying the truth of the characters’ grief.
It’s not surprising that the movie has struck a chord with audiences, critics and juries wherever it has been shown, winning the Gan Foundation Prize at Cannes, where it premiered, as well as eight awards at the Jerusalem Film Festival, including the prize for Best Israeli Feature.
The shiva that has just ended when the movie opens is a particularly heart-breaking one.
Eyal (Shai Avivi) and Vicky (Evgenia Dudina) Spivak have just buried their only child, a young adult son who has died after a long battle with cancer. This couple try different strategies for dealing with their grief, and both suffer separately and together as they try to get through this day.
Vicky chooses to go back to her routine, and Eyal has no idea what to do, eventually settling on the bizarre quest to find and smoke all that is left of their son’s medical marijuana.
Grief has driven a wedge between them, and they are united mainly in their contempt for the neighbors they have always hated, the Zoolers (Carmit Mesilati Kaplan and Sharon Alexander). The Zoolers are annoying in all kinds of ways, but what particularly angers the Spivaks on this day is that their neighbors, professing confusion about dates of the shiva, show up after it is over.
The neighbors’ son, Zooler (Tomer Kapon), a childhood friend of their own son, also shows up late, bearing a platter of sushi from the local Japanese restaurant, where he works as a deliveryman. Eyal wants nothing to do with any of the Zoolers. But after he gets hold of the marijuana and tries to roll some joints on his own, he realizes that Zooler, a stoner called by his last name, is just the guy he needs, and Zooler is delighted that one of his few skills can come in handy.
As the day goes on and both Vicky and Eyal try to cope, the story has an odd kind of suspense as to how they will manage. The screenplay is a collection of human moments in which this very ordinary couple show unusual courage.
The performances are extraordinary. Evgenia Dodina is a Russian-born actress who has received rave reviews for her stage performances with the Gesher Theater and Habima but who has never had a movie role that allowed her to shine as this one does. Similarly, Shai Avivi, whom I last saw in a broad, comic role in last year’s Atomic Falafel, has the role of a lifetime. It’s his character who carries most of the story, and he makes Eyal compelling and believable in every moment.
Tomer Kapon is both funny and infuriatingly clueless as Zooler.
There is a short misconceived sequence in which a bereaved brother (Uri Gavriel) of a woman who has just died and is being buried in the same cemetery as the Spivaks’ son gives a eulogy for her. Although this speech is well written, it feels heavy handed and interrupts the flow of the story.
But this is just one misstep in an extremely assured directorial debut. Polonsky developed this movie in the Sam Spiegel International Film Lab, and the intensive work that he did there paid off with this nearly flawless film.
Even audiences around the world who have never heard the word “shiva” will respond to this story.