“Avanim” (2004)

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by Sylvie Finkelstein

A profound, subtle movie, Avanim (Stones in Hebrew) follows the coming of age of an Israeli woman today. Locked into a bland marriage, a stifling relationship with her father and a relentless daily routine – as much as she is locked into herself – she makes a U-turn when faced with death and corruption. A loving, intelligent and uncompromising account, which doesn’t let you generalize or over simplify on anything, be it Israel, religion, tradition, Sephardi Jews or modern women. The heroin’s stubborn silence and hurried pace in the city, the kindergarten teacher’s womanly empathy, the old rabbi’s gentleness and humbleness all make for unforgettable characters. Stunning performances at all level inlaid with haunting sober cello music, Nadjari’s stone is a dark gem!

by Eddie Cockrell

A thirtysomething Israeli wife and mother balances an affair and pressures of working at her father’s accounting firm in the bleak, claustrophobic drama “Avanim.” Though markedly superior in all departments to French-American helmer Raphael Nadjari’s previous New York-set trio of films, pic demands much of auds, with little in the way of emotional payoff. Fest dates feel most appropriate, with some theatrical action possible before low-keyed ancillary afterlife.

In the working class “Hatikva” section of southern Tel Aviv, Michale (Asi Levi) handles books of ultra-orthodox religious orgs for firm run by Meir (Uri Gabriel). When her precisely timed affair is abruptly ended following her lover’s death in a terrorist bombing, relationships with her father and Sephardic husband Shmoulik (Danny Steg) deteriorate alarmingly. Meanwhile, high-stakes office whistle-blowing results in tragedy for her son’s teacher, Nehama (Florence Bloch). Nadjari’s approach is reminiscent of Dogma style, with intense improv-playing captured in extreme close-up by grainy digital video cameras. Levi carries pic on her determined shoulders. Title is Hebrew for “stones,” which are placed on Nehama’s grave and, per Nadjari, can “serve to destroy, but also to build.”

by Demita Usher

To be a desperate housewife is not limited to Wisteria Lane, desperate housewives live all over the United States and all over the world, living lives of quiet desperation. In the movie, Avanim, there exists a Middle Eastern woman who lives such a life. Written and directed by Raphael Nadjari, the movie follows recent events in the life of Michaeli, an Israeli who works for her father at his accounting firm in an a deeply religious Yemeni community in Israel.  She is the adoring mother of one son and the unhappy wife of a local building contractor who works long hours and is rarely home.

The movie opens with Michaeli sitting in a cafe waiting for a man in a cafe who turns out to be her lover. After a passionate tryst in a local motel, Michaeli rushes off to work, assuring her lover she will be in touch. The casualness of the departure leaves the audience with the notion that this affair has been going on for some time. She arrives at the office late with an excuse in tow for her father as to her whereabouts. As she settles into her daily routine, she is summoned by her father into a meeting already in progress with an assistant to the local rabbi.

The meeting is in regards to the finalization of funding for a new Yeshiva (School of learning). Michaeli’s father is deeply involved in this project to the point where he has been encouraged to some acts of dishonesty to solidify the funding. Michaeli is deeply concerned about what is going on and does not support the dishonesty that is being justified to complete this project. In private she tries to discourage her father form being involved in the fraud. Her father tries to justify his actions by stating that a greater good is being accomplished; a school of learning is being established so that young men can study to become rabbis.

Michaeli cannot support her father’s ‘ends justify the means’ philosophy in regards to this project, but being a woman in a male dominated society, her voice goes unheard. The religious hypocrisy that she routinely observes leaves a bad taste in her mouth and pushes her to question and challenge the religious elite. The day that the final papers are to be signed by the rabbi, she calls her lover to arrange a rendez-vous at the same cafe. After the meeting she goes to meet her lover, but the meeting is never to take place, her lover is killed in a suicide bombing and she is devastated. This tragedy becomes the catalyst that forces her to re-examine her life. She is not allowed to openly mourn for her lover because she is a married woman and to do so would create additional problems. She instead uses the grief to break the chains of her repression and make some radical life changes that rock her marriage, her relationship with her father, and the religious community, which creates more tragedy in her life, but with her newfound sense of independence she does not look back.

Produced by Geoffroy Grison, Marek Rozenbaum, Itai Tamir
Directed and written by Raphael Nadjari
Cast: Asi Levi, Uri Gabriel, Florence Bloch, Shaul Mizrahi, Danny Steg, Gabi Amrani-Gur, Eli Eltonyo

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