The Wanderer -- Film Review

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CANNES -- A well-meaning first film by 33-year-old Israeli experimental film director Avishai Sivan, "The Wanderer" (known in French as "Le Vagabond" and in Hebrew as "Ha'Meshotet") ends up as an excruciating exercise in boredom.

Many art films today seem caught up in the minimalist stylization originally popularized by directors like Tsai Ming-Liang, Abbas Kiarostami, and numerous Romanians, but, in the hands of these talented filmmakers, viewers are almost always rewarded with regular flashes of subtle humor or, by the end, with some insight about the human condition. Nothing of the sort is forthcoming in "The Wanderer."

Commercial possibilities therefore seem remote, though the film may attract the attention of Jewish festivals around the world that are looking for something artistically "edgy" from Israel.

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The confused story focuses on Isaac, a yeshiva student whose parents are ultra-orthodox. His health seems to be compromised, especially in the urinary-genital area, and much attention is paid to this part of his body. Little of this attention can be called humorous, however, or even clear. Troubled by things that are never really explained, Isaac does a lot of aimless walking (hence the title), and suspects that his father, before he became orthodox, led a compromised life that God is now punishing Isaac for.

The tone of "The Wanderer" is complex, but not in a good way. Many scenes have tiny elements within them that might be considered potentially humorous, if it weren't for the film's very serious religious context. (One example is the presence of dozens and dozens of eggs in the refrigerator, presumably there to enhance the father's sexual potency.)

But the most difficult thing about the movie is that it is presented as a series of ultra-short vignettes -- sometimes punctuated by a line or two of dialogue, sometimes not -- in which people mostly look blankly at each other. Every action, like putting on a hat, is slowed-down and stylized.

Isaac is curious about his family's history, and the fact that his mother and father, atypically for orthodox Jews, have only one child. He questions his mother about this, but he finds out nothing, and, frustratingly, neither do we. In fact, catatonic characters ask each other "all you all right?" from beginning to end of the film, but never get more than one-word answers. Many scenes begin with a character staring at a wall, or lying in bed, or waiting for a bus, and end there as well.

A shocking, unprepared-for rape near the end of the film is a spectacularly bad script choice. Besides completely alienating us from a principal character, it apparently confirms that no, we weren't supposed to ever laugh. Well, maybe when a drunken girl loses her contacts in her vomit and makes Isaac look for them?

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Directors' Fortnight
Production: Mouth Agape Prods.
Cast: Omri Fuhrer, Ali Nassar, Ronit Peled, Shani Ben-Haim
Director: Avishai Sivan
Screenwriter: Avishai Sivan
Producers: Karen Michael, Shai Goldman, Redi Sivan, Avishai Sivan
Director of photography: Shai Goldman
Art Director: Yang Yuval. Gilad, Lin Baru
Costume designer: Noa Yallon Editor: Nili Feller, Avishai Sivan
No rating, 86 minutes
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