|Directed by:||Amos Gitai||Rating:||TV-MA|
|Release Date:||2003||Running Time:||106|
|Language:||Hebrew (English subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
A psychological drama that Newsday called “sexy, colorful, courageous and boldly entertaining,” Alila offers award-winning director Amos Gitai’s unique take on contemporary Israeli society. Considered “Israel’s one man new wave” by the Village Voice, Gitai shows the interplay between the disparate elements of Israeli society, overlapping the lives of his eclectic characters that are all somehow connected to a rundown apartment building in Tel Aviv.
“Someday you’ll go abroad,” a father lectures his teenage son, as the two drive down the bustling streets of downtown Tel-Aviv, “and even if you’re having fun, it’ll feel alien to you. You’ll miss this language, these streets, these smells, this whole mess. It’s our country…I can’t explain it.”
For the past twenty years, Gitai’s films have examined Israel’s psychological landscape. In Alila, he uses experimental cinematography and novel storytelling methods to follow his characters through their struggles to create harmony from personal chaos. Gabi, a bob-haired sexpot, and her lover Hezi — who’s older, balding and married, rent a room to have an affair, while Ezra, a pot-bellied divorcee, supervises the illegal construction sight next door. All this racket drives poor Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor, to the verge of a mental breakdown. Illegal immigrants, a teenage boy who’s afraid to serve in the army, and a corrupt police officer also get dragged into the mix.
With a groundbreaking approach to storytelling, Alila resists the standard editing tricks of the trade. The film is constructed of forty individual scenes — each consisting of one single, extended shot. Rather than using different camera angles and cutting together multiple takes, Gitai’s camera moves through walls, over desks, and pivots around rooms in order to keep a close focus on the character it’s following, mimicking the human eye. And while some moments are heated and full of drama, the camera will linger on its subjects with equal interest even when they’re performing regular life activities, such as driving or washing dishes. In effect, Gitai’s voyeuristic camera makes the viewer into a spy, eavesdropping on the lives of these interconnected strangers.
Gitai makes it clear that he doesn’t want to conform to the standard approach to filmmaking right from the beginning. Instead of showing written credits, Gitai reads the credits aloud, introduces himself, and offers his private wish that the viewer enjoy his film. The audience is immediately familiarized with the film’s distinct, naturalistic style.
In its objective presentation of its characters’ lives, Alila maintains a nonjudgmental tone, recognizing that, as is the case with real people, its characters are complex, acting from understandable motives, even if their actions are wrong. Gabi’s adulterous affair stems from her profound loneliness, and in the end she’s more of a victim than a vixen. Ezra, too, is caught in a psychological bind: how can he support his cowardly son who is afraid to join the army without undermining his own pro-Israel loyalties? Knowing only as much as the characters do, the viewer sympathizes with their hesitation and confusion. And as the stories unfold simultaneously for both, the viewer inevitably identifies with the film’s complex characters.
Interestingly, politics are not at the forefront of the film, but serve instead as a backdrop. Radios playing in the background report violent terrorist attacks and political developments as the characters go through their daily activities. The device suggests that, while the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is an obvious reality of life in Israel, lesser-explored but also relevant social issues dominate people’s lives and deserve attention.
By focusing so closely on the personal struggles of its characters, Alila conveys a distinctive Israeli spirit while also maintaining a universal relevance that makes it worthy of being an art house masterpiece.