The complexity of parenthood

‘Saving Neta’ tells some touching stories.

‘Saving Neta’ (photo credit: PR)
‘Saving Neta’
(photo credit: PR)
Hebrew title: L’hatzil et Neta
Directed by Nir Bergman With Neta Riskin, Naama Arlaky, Benny Avni, Irit Kaplan, Rotem Abuhab, Nuria Dina Lozinsky
Running time: 90 minutes
In Hebrew. Check with theaters for subtitle information.
Nir Bergman’s first feature film, Broken Wings (2002), about a family in crisis after the death of the father, won acclaim all around the world. But, as Bergman describes in his director’s statement for his latest film, Saving Neta, he scaled back his movie career following the birth of his first two children, twins, and concentrated on working in television to support his family. He returned to movies for the David Grossman adaptation, Intimate Grammar (2010), and Yona (2014), a biopic of poet Yona Wallach.
Saving Neta is a drama that is difficult to categorize. It is about four women whose lives are connected by their encounters with one man, who is known as Neta (Benny Avni), a traditionally female name. Neta has given up his son and doesn’t know how to find his way back to him. All the stories reflect the weight and the complexity of the responsibility of parenthood. The movie won the Audience Award at last summer’s Jerusalem Film Festival in a very competitive year. It’s loosely based on the novel Iron by Eran Bar-Gil, and he and Bergman collaborated on the script.
As with most anthology films, some stories work better and are more memorable than others. That said, I think that Saving Neta is unusual in that I can imagine different viewers having different favorites and changing their minds about which stories they prefer if they were to see the movie again at different times in their lives. Another unusual fact about Saving Neta is that it was filmed over the course of a year, and each story was shot during the season in which it is supposed to take place.
The first story is about Dalia (Rotem Abuhab), a lieutenant colonel on the police force who, in spite of her high rank, is insecure about her job with her male supervisors. She is quite confident when instructing a group of new recruits, but when it comes to dealing with her teenage daughter, she is lost. Under pressure at work, she ignores her daughter’s complaints about a stomach ache the one time it turns out to be something serious, every parent’s nightmare. Abuhab, a gifted actress who has appeared in such films as Avi Nesher’s Turn Left at the End of the World and Shemi Zarhin’s Aviva My Love, is good at conveying the complex emotions that Dalia experiences during the course of her day. You can see how her daughter can consider her unfeeling while Dalia struggles to cope with the demands made on her by everyone in her life.
Ruti (Naama Arlaky) is a lesbian cellist who is undergoing fertility treatments that haven’t worked, in order to have a child with her partner. She is ambivalent about both the process and the idea of becoming a mother, and when Neta comes into her life, he confuses her even more.
Miri (Irit Kaplan) takes her family on a picnic, with the plan that she and her husband will tell their children that they are splitting up.
But when they get to the park, this task turns out to be more complicated than she anticipated.
The story that I found most moving and most original was about Sharon (Neta Riskin, who plays Giti on the TV series Shtisel). A businesswoman living in America, she returns to the moshav where she grew up, and where Neta lives, after her mother’s death. The complication is that her mentally retarded adult sister, Dan Dan (Nuria Dina Lozinsky), had always lived with the mother, and Sharon’s plan to put Dan Dan in a residential facility the day after the funeral and immediately return to America strikes Neta and the other neighbors as cruel. While it might be easy to demonize a woman like Sharon, we get to hear her side of the story – that she was always pushed to the side because her sister needed so much attention and care, and now she stands to miss her own daughter’s bat mitzva.
The performers are all excellent, and if there is a standout, it’s Lozinsky, who gives a completely credible performance as a mentally challenged woman.
Some will find the film too episodic and slow, but those who give it a chance will find it touching and rewarding.