Fun fact, this flick is indeed directed by none other than Natalie Portman, who also wrote it, and is obviously starring in it. Quite the feat. To make matters even more interesting, the film is completely in subtitles… as far as the one trailer I saw was concerned. So I’m pretty interested in this project of hers. It couldn’t be easy. Plus some fantasy elements thrown in for good measure, I’m actually on board.
I should also go on record and acknowledge that this is based on a book. A memoir to be precise, by Amos Oz, considered to be Israel’s greatest living author. Boy, that’s the second “greatest living” something or other this week in movies that I’ve never heard of. *shrug*
Anyway, the young actor playing Amos Oz in the film is Amir Tessler. He is fresh. Like, way fresh. As in, this is his first film, fresh. According to IMDb, this movie is his only credit. He doesn’t even have a biography. Here’s to hoping the kid’s a good actor and that Portman can bring that out of him. She may know how to get a good performance out of herself, which may or may not show in the film, but a kid actor is a totally different ball game.
Let’s take a look at the crew. The man responsible for music for the film is Nicholas Britell. He’s mostly done shorts and documentaries over the course of his career, but has done the music for films like this year’s FREE STATE OF JONES, and THE BIG SHORT (2015). And finally, the cinematographer is Slawomir Isziak, who’s done such films as HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001), and GATTACA (1997).
Overall, this looks like a really impressive movie. Portman clearly has passion for the story, as she spent eight years trying to find funding for it and insisted that the film be in Hebrew throughout. However, I can’t deny that initial ratings have me wary. IMDb’s given it a 6.2/10, which is average, and RottenTomatoes has it at 64%, which is average, but still fresh. But I’m optimistic and am looking forward to Portman’s second directorial outing.
This is my honest opinion of: A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS
Set during the late 1940’s in Israel. The story follows young Amos (Amir Tessler), his mother, Fania (Natalie Portman), and his father, Arieh (Gilad Kahana) as they try to get by in the then troubled Jerusalem at the end of the Mandatory Palestine, focusing more on his relationship with his mother, who’s mental health decreases over time.
*rubs my pained head* Yeah, this movie didn’t work for me.
Now, let’s get something out of the way. I’m not Israeli. I don’t know Israeli history, so I’m not familiar with things like “Mandatory Palestine.” And before you ask, “Didn’t you learn anything in school!?” I was a C-average student (probably a generous assumption) and history was one of my least favorite subjects. So… no, I didn’t. You have your background, so let’s carry on.
The biggest problem I had with the film is that… I don’t really know what it’s about. In every screenwriting class I’ve had, there’s been one basic fundamental fact that seemed to repeat: characters are story. In ninety-nine percent of every movie you’ve seen, it’s been about a character or group of characters with a problem. They have goals, something they are trying to accomplish or achieve. A good story throws in unique, fresh, or different spins on obstacles being thrown at them to overcome and eventually achieve their goals, or even not achieve them. Andy Dufresne wants to get out of prison, John McClane wants to save his wife and stop the bank robbers, and Luke Skywalker wants to put a stop to the Empire. But… what’s anyone’s goals here in this story? What is this movie about? The struggles of an impoverished family during this period in history? I’m not sure if I got that. I didn’t get a sense of struggle or urgency, I just got a cutsie relationship between Amos and his mother. What does Amos want in this movie? Not revealed. What does Fania want in this movie? To be a a good mother? Well, what’s in her way of doing that? We know she comes from a harsh background and suffers from depression, but we don’t exactly explore why she could never overcome it and progressively gets mentally further away from her family. It just sort of happens.
You want to know something though? The surprising thing about this movie is that Portman isn’t that bad at directing. She gets good performances out of Tessler and Kahana, and she herself is wonderful. She convinced me that she knew Hebrew fluently. Maybe some others can point out how fake her accent is, but I sure couldn’t tell. She sounded natural. She even has great chemistry with her young co-star. If you ask me, take each individual scene as it’s own thing, and you’ll get a pretty solidly directed scene. You can tell that Portman’s got a knack for this. The problem is obviously in the writing. None of those individual scenes really accumulate into what I can tell to be a flowing narrative. I know there’s passion here, she’s giving everything she’s got into this project, but I think it comes up short as a whole.
If Portman returned to direct something else, I’d be open to it. But if she’s writing it, ehh, I hope she’s practiced. Maybe the best case scenario is if she worked with the writer of any future projects, but if she wants to get into writing, she can only evolve. All writers learn with each passing project how to be better than the last, as long as they’re open to development. Find out what worked in your story and keep that strong, while improving yourself in the ways that you lacked in. That’s how artists work. Personally, I want to see her sit back into the director’s chair. It suits her. But as a first project is concerned, it’s not the sturdiest foundation. It looks nice, sounds great, but doesn’t come together well. A valiant attempt with some serious potential, but ultimately, not very good.
My honest rating for A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS: 3/5
That’s it for this weeks movies, everyone. But Hollywood never fails to belt out another set, so keep an eye out for my reviews.