Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2019 7:03 am 
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Home surveillance

In this Israeli film with a "noirish tone" (Hannah Brown in The Jerusalem Post) set in Haifa, Avner (Yoram Toledano), a chief engineer on the Carmel Tunnels project, discovers through a traffic report with a photo that his wife Ella (Yaël Abecassis), a shrink, may be having an affair.

Rather than confronting her, he spies on her by recording her phone conversations. As he listens over and over to these recordings, more and more - the movie wants to tell us - he comes to find his wife a stranger, their relationship a mystery. A Hebrew comment on Letterboxd says "A lot of genre, but it's a great movie." Regretfully, I must disagree. It's not enough genre, and despite interesting ingredients, doesn't generate sufficient excitement and winds up feeling flat. When Avner tells his two kids he has been "very angry" at their mother we realize we didn't feel that anger. He has to tell us, and he's telling us too late.

The directing team, who were working together for the first time, say they were inspired by Hitchcock's Vertigo, Coppola's The Conversation, and Kieslowski's Red. Excactly the trouble is that they're playing with a few too many ingredients, and the dish they've served up hasn't the strong clear, satisfying taste of that rare thing, neo-noir. "Noirish" it is, but that winds up being like slightly pregnant.

The opening shot is pointed and suggestive: a tunnel, one of the ones on the underground traffic shortcut network Avner is working on, and an explosion. It's a punchy intro. A little bit obvious, of course: Avner is going to be tunneling into the secrets of his marriage, and he's going to take apart its security and its structure forever. He is - spoiler alert - going to find out who his wife Ella was having an affair with. But she has disappeared from the action halfway through, muting the tensions. (This situation may have taken a hint by the Israeli film The Cakemaker by Ofir Raul Graizer, with its jointly aggrieved spouse and secret gay lover.)

Nothing about the phone conversations Avner records particularly stands out, not do they, like Coppola's film, have a quality of unfolding mystery. But he does do detective work, with some plausibility unraveling the chain of events that led Ella to meet the other man a little over a year earlier. Only the unfolding of this lacks the sense of drama and danger that accompany real noir.

The contrast between the steely, macho Abecassis (a cross between George Clooney and Boris Karloff) and the soft, unassertive Guri Alfi who plays the lover, hints at a pulpy effectiveness. The movie presents its upper middle class milieu suavely. The posh modern apartments, the glamorous birthday picnic, the roughhousing at the gym and Avner's anger at his sexy young coworker-pal Shay (Tsahi Halevi) when he advocates serial adultery. The key subplot of Ella's lost patient and his senile mother in care; the misconceptions of the cute, well brought up kids, Tali (Ron Zimmerman) and Dafna (Tamar Zur). The subtle widescreen images, equally glamorizing landscape and interior. This is sophisticated filmmaking with a consistently polished surface. But it lacks an edge, even a muted scream. It has so many possibilities, but it winds up disappointing.

Echo/ הד’ (Hed), 92 mins., debuted at Jerusalem July 2018, and is showing at 19 Jewish film festivals. It was screened for this review at the San Francisco one.
SFJFF showtimes:
Friday July 19, 2019 3:40 at the Castro
Mon. July 33 8:30 at CineArts
Sat. July 27 8:50 at Albany Twin

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