A Film a Week - America

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

There is hardly more exploited concept in literature and cinema as it is a love triangle, and there are few filmmakers that could pull it in a new and fresh way. The Israeli filmmaker Ofir Raul Graizer has a difficult task to stir the water in his unique way with his sophomore feature “America” that has premiered in the official Crystal Globe competition at Karlovy Vary. Some sort of a festival tour might be expected judging by the tone of film, its execution and Graizer’s own reputation: his debut “The Cakemaker” (2017) that also premiered at KVIFF went to become the Israeli official entry for 2018 Oscar and a minor arthouse hit.

The title, which later proves to be quite misleading, comes the place where our protagonist Ilay Cross (Michael Moshonov) resides and works as a swimming coach. One day, he receives a phone call from his father’s attorney that informs him that the father has passed away and that Ilai inherited the house. Once he gets back to Israel, we learn that his actual name is Eli Greenberg, that his father was a national hero and a local sheriff, that his mother is long gone and that Eli had a complicated relationship with his family.

In the meanwhile, Eli reconnects with his childhood friend and swimming rival Yotam (Ofri Biterman) who now owns a florist shop and is engaged with Iris (Oshrat Ingadashet). For the old times’ sake, Eli and Yotam go swimming in the creek where they played when they were kids, but, while Eli takes a nap in the sun, Yotam slips and falls to end up in a vegetative state. Ten months later, Eli is still in Israel, refurbishing his house in order to sell it well. Iris’ shop is deeply in debt, so she accepts Eli’s offer to help him with the garden and while doing so, the two get closer and fall in love. When Yotam suddenly wakes up from coma, the relationship dynamics are about to be re-evaluated again…

While the plot description and the film’s structure in four chapters (the last of them serves actually as an epilogue) seem a bit Almodóvar-esque, “America” is actually a film that plays by its own set of rules. Each character we encounter is quite complex and life-like, which is especially true for our central trio whose traits, past and trauma we get to learn slowly through the drips of information Graizer feeds us through his script. Also, each of the central three chapters is centred around one of the relationships in the completely drawn triangle: Eli’s and Yotam’s platonic bro-mance, Eli’s and Iris’ passionate affair coming out of desperation, and Iris’ and Yotam’s rekindled love through which they both survive.

Graizer’s directing style is toned-down and discreet, but also quite tactile. He demonstrated it also in “The Cakemaker”, which also had a queer angle and was more focused on relationship building through enjoying and preparing food. In “America”, Graizer focuses more on the tactile aspect of the intrapersonal dynamics in relationships that always have some physical component, whether they are sexual by nature or not. The only thing that breaks that unity is Dominique Charpentier’s score that is a bit too revealing.

Shot in the colours of the eternal warm season in Israel, suggestively edited and equipped with fitting production- and costume design, “America” is very much competent piece of work. The amount of storytelling control achieved through the fine-tuning process by Graizer actually makes “America” resemble an American film, whether it be a higher profile indie or a smaller studio production.

Graizer’s detailed and layered writing also allows the standout performances in the acting department. Michael Moshonov has the most complex, but also the most thankful task as Eli, a decent man of high ethical standards, but also of strong emotions and deeply hidden traumas covered with a layer of mystery. As Iris, Oshrat Ingadashet gets to play the most emotional and vulnerable part, while Ofri Bitterman has to show the multitude of moods, from joviality to helplessness to determination.

“America” is definitely very well made and very accessible film that could do very well with different audiences. Watching it gives the sense of reading a fine novel. Maybe Graizer just has to follow the footsteps of the protagonist he created and takes a jump across the pond where he could be a reliable “money player”.

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