Directed by Raphael Nadjari. France/Israel. 2004.

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The clash between a modern, secular woman's desire for independence and her ties to the Rabbinical establishment that wants to dominate her life is the main theme of Avanim, a powerful French/Israeli drama by Raphael Nadjari. Set in the Hatikva district of Tel Aviv, Michale (Asi Levi) fulfills the roles expected of her. She is a dutiful wife, mother to a bright five-year old son, and loyal worker in her father's accounting firm. We know that things are not all right, however, when we see her having an afternoon affair with a lover, of whom we know next to nothing. Shooting in a close-up, intimate style with a hand-held camera and improvisational acting, we follow Michale going through the routine of her existence, mostly in moody silence, bringing her boy to a pre-school, being late in picking him up, and wearily greeting her husband late in the evening.  

Her Sephardic husband Shmoulik (Danny Steg), a building contractor, is a burly, decent fellow but does not seem to provide the emotional gratification Michale is seeking. Her life becomes more tightly wound when she discovers her father's (Uri Gabriel) complicity in a scheme to pad the number of students to attract money from the government for the construction of a new Yeshiva. When her lover is killed in a suicide bombing, however, long stifled emotions come to the surface and she is forced to deal with the conflicts of her life in an uncompromising manner..  

There are no entirely sympathetic characters in Avanim. The father is wearing ethical blinders and the husband seems unconscious of his wife's emotional needs. While Michale is more sympathetic, she rebels in covert ways without openly communicating her feelings to her family or considering the emotional consequences of her behavior for her son. For example, she stays out all night without telling anyone where she is while her husband and father are understandably frantic. While Asi Levi delivers a strong performance as the restless, dissatisfied housewife, the script never crystallizes the issues and, in spite of a melodramatic ending, lacks an emotional payoff.  


Howard Schumann
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