by Vladan Petkovic
- BERLIN 2019: The second instalment in Yaron Shani's "Love Trilogy" is a police thriller that turns into a family drama, with non-professionals in the main roles
Israeli filmmaker Yaron Shani is best known for Ajami [+see also:
film profile], which picked up the Cannes Caméra d'Or Special Mention in 2009. He is now in the middle of his ambitious "Love Trilogy," the first part of which, Stripped [+see also:
interview: Yaron Shani
film profile], screened in Venice’s Orizzonti last year. He has now arrived in the 69th Berlinale's Panorama section with the second instalment, Chained [+see also:
The film opens much like a police thriller: together with a colleague, cop Rashi (Eran Naim) answers a domestic-disturbance call and discovers a possible abuser and paedophile with two boys in his flat. After this, the dispatcher radios in another call, about a kid having been offered drugs in a park. Going to investigate it, Rashi and his colleague find six entitled teenagers sitting on the grass and strip-search them, finding nothing.
Back home, Rashi's young wife, Avigail (Stav Almagor), has just lost a child. Rashi is a strong, protective and sensitive man, and deals with it maturely, but he is also a cop. This means that when Avigail's 13-year-old daughter (Stav Patay) wants to do a provocative photo shoot, or when he finds her drinking with school friends in a park, an inevitable, very serious clash follows, and his wife asks him to go and stay with his parents for a few days. Meanwhile, one of the teenagers he strip-searched went blubbing to his high-ranking security-service daddy, and Rashi is accused of sexual harassment, which entails a humiliating investigation and a temporary suspension.
As the film progresses, it starts to transform from a cop story into an overstretched family drama. In the press notes, the director writes that this trilogy is "part of the next revolution in cinema, as it rejects the familiar lines between fiction and real life". More specifically, the protagonists are not played by actors, and Naim is actually a former policeman, who also played a detective in Ajami. “For almost a year, they have been living as their characters – step by step, in chronological manner, without reading a script or being aware of what the next step is going to be,” Shani continues in his director's note.
This is where both the strengths and the disadvantages of the movie lie: the beginning is very convincing and engaging, with Naim's formidable screen presence, Almagor's natural talent for portraying (or being?) a woman who is questioning her own choices, and the young Patay simply being a 13-year-old girl in this day and age. But when it comes to family strife, the more they develop throughout the film, the less cinematic they start feeling, and the viewer feels more like watching an actual fight in his or her own family. It may feel realistic, but it is certainly not very appropriate for the medium of film.
It is a pity that Shani is attempting a "cinema revolution", of sorts, when he is actually a talented director with an eye for framing and light, a keen sense of editing, and a sensibility when working with actors, whether professional or not. But the idea of non-professionals playing themselves, or characters similar to themselves, is hardly revolutionary, and if this story had been dramatised, rather than “lived”, the effect would probably have been far more realistic. Cinema represents a context that audiences are familiar with on an instinctual level, and though artistic innovations can often be exciting, no form of method acting can successfully replace well-mapped storytelling.
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