ALILA (director/writer: Amos Gitai; screenwriters: from a novel “Returning Lost Love” by Yehoshua Kenaz/Marie-Jose Sanselme; cinematographer: Renato Berta; editors: Monica Coleman/Kobi Netanel; music: Pri ganech; cast: Uri Klauzner (Ezra Zaada), Yaël Abecassis (Gabi), Hana Laszlo (Mali Zaada), Amos Lavie (Hezi), Yosef Carmon (Schwartz), Liron Levo (Ilan), Lyn Shiao Zamir (Linda), Amit Mestechkin (Eyali Zaada), Ronit Elkabetz (Ronit); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alain Mamou-Mani; Kino International; 2003-Israel-in Hebrew with English subtitles)
“Suggesting that the strain of the Arab conflict has gotten to the Israelis and that peace might only be a pipe dream.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Amos Gitai’s (“Kadosh”/”Kippur”) loosely based on Yehoshua Kenaz’s novel Returning Lost Love. Cinematographer Renato Berta’s superb photography recreates the frenzied Tel Aviv atmosphere in all its maddening delirium. It chronicles in a comical way the trying every day life for those in a shabby working-class Tel Aviv apartment complex, pointing its finger at the country’s terrorist problems with the Palestinians as a root cause for the extreme personal angst, uncertainty of the future and societal unrest. Though on target as a social commentary exercise, the dramatics had too many unshaped scenes, too many undeveloped characters and all the hysterical emotions got lost in the confusion of too many stories being told all at once to connect all the dots. But to the acclaimed filmmaker’s credit, he does bring to light some under the radar problems facing the Israelis that are not a popular topic of discussion, such as the illegal employment and exploitation of foreign workers, the growing multiculturalism, the plight of the homeless, and pointing out that not everyone is gung-ho army. In one riveting scene, an 18-year-old deserter from a IDF combat unit, Eyali, tells his frustrated patriotic father Ezra “Fuck the army! Fuck this country!”

The Altman-esque Short Cuts plot line of telling many interconnecting stories focuses mostly on the broken marriage couple, the gloomy construction builder Ezra and his more lighthearted but selfish beautician ex-wife Mali, and their dealings with their troubled soft-hearted AWOL son Eyali who is hiding out in the red-light district. Ezra lives in his van and is building an unauthorized construction of an additional wing to the building, and gets arrested for hiring illegal Chinese construction workers.

A less developed story revolves around an attractive kept women Gabi, taking an apartment in the complex. She’s the mistress of the married Hezi, and they disturb the neighbors with their loud lovemaking that is heard through the paper-thin walls. Hezi’s an older, bald man who insists on complete secrecy, afraid to think of what would happen if his wife would find out. Gabi is stuck in a dead-end relationship and refuses because of her masochistic streak to end the mentally cruel relationship with the brute.

There are other less developed stories: One that goes nowhere about a senile elderly man named Schwartz, wanting only peace and quiet, a Holocaust survivor who lives alone in the complex with his dog and who has a Filipino housekeeper (Lyn Shiao Zamir), concerned less with suicide-bombers than most Israelis. Schwartz is disturbed by all the din created by the construction workers, who work even at night, and the lovemaking sounds from his new neighbors which reminds him of torture sounds during his concentration camp days. There’s also a younger man Ilan who is the new lover of Mali, and he makes contact with her on-the-run son in a more pleasing but just as ineffective counseling way as he does with his father. In the police station the arrested Ezra is questioned by his neighbor Ronit, who is sketchily characterized as a bitchy female cop with a bigoted attitude toward the Asian illegals. Gitai shows only the ugly side of Tel Aviv, suggesting that the strain of the Arab conflict has gotten to the Israelis and that peace might only be a pipe dream as is the thought of a unified front. The real attitude, if we are to believe what Gitai suggests, is that greed rules the country and it’s each-man-for-himself. If that is so, this pic doesn’t prove anything but bring to light a dozen or so neurotic and unpleasant people and uses them for the filmmaker to score academic points. Not one skit hit a home run, but there were plenty of base hits to keep things moving along despite it being difficult to warm up to any of the unlikable

REVIEWED ON 11/25/2004 GRADE: C +