Monday, June 10, 2013

Bizarrely connecting with one's Jewish roots: Elie Wajeman's interesting ALIYAH

Can a Parisian drug dealer with a severely addicted older brother find happiness by helping to open a new restaurant in Israel, meanwhile being forced to discover his Jewish roots while banging a very hot Shiksa on the side? This question, I grant you, would not top most of our lists of "important problems" that must be solved, but it does provide some interesting fodder for the 90-minute movie by up-and-coming film-maker Elie Wajeman (who is shown below). It also stars two currently rising actors of note and one well-known director, this time playing that older and very problematic brother.

The movie at hand is ALIYAH, which means, as closely as I can figure, making some kind of formal commitment to one's Jewish roots so that, in this case, our hero -- a petty criminal who luckily has as yet no criminal record, or all bets would be off -- can officially enter the state of Israel. His mother was Jewish, so that part is A-OK, but he has neither knowledge of the Hebrew language nor of anything much else about the place he intends to go and live and, one hopes, prosper. What he does have is this really difficult-because-drug-addicted older brother, Issac, who seems to feel that his kid bro, Alex, should forever be there to offer him help. Ah, the addicted: they're always some else's responsibility, never their own.

While Alex himself is a rather desultory character, and not really all that fascinating, he and the movie seem to come to life when family and friends are on the scene. I am not sure we can blame lead actor Pio Marmaï (shown above), either, for I have seen this guy a couple of time previous -- Living on Love Alone (click and scroll down) and Delicacy -- and he's been just fine, though in both films not the major presence that he is here. More specificity in characterization from the screenwriters (Wajeman co-wrote with Gaëlle Macé) and from the actor himself might have helped. Instead, our guy just kind of doodles along, but as he's cute, sexy and relatively interesting, we follow.

Any of you who have had to deal with an addictive personality among your family or close friends will understand just what a horror older brother Issac is. And yet, as played by Cédric Kahn (above, left), Issac proves the most compelling figure in the film: needy, despicable, poignant and beyond sad.

Also surprisingly compelling is Jeanne, the young woman Alex meets early on, with whom he develops a friendship and sexual relation-ship. As played by Adèle Haenel (shown above, of Water Lilies, House of Pleasures and the upcoming Three Worlds) her character is bright, forceful, smart and extremely winning. We root for her and so may feel, by film's end, that she's somehow better off.

I am not certain if the filmmaker's point about Alex and his aliyah is that it matters little -- or a lot. Certainly, his getting to Israel seems rather easy, overall, as does just about everything in the film (except getting Issac off drugs). Perhaps we are to take all this as the baby steps the young man has managed to make in his ascent to autonomy and adulthood. If so, fine. But I am not sure if this is the sort of film-making you would call subtle or just a little lazy.

Aliyah, from Film Movement and running 90 minutes, opens this Friday in New York City at the Cinema Village and on Friday, June 21, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3. (NOTE: Filmmaker Elie Wajeman will be present at the Cinema Village this Friday and Saturday evenings for a Q&A after the 7:30 screening only.) Other playdates around the country can be found by clicking here then scrolling down.

No comments: