'Afterthought' ('Hayorad Lema'ala'): Cannes Review

A trek that feels longer than it needs to be

Itay Tiran and Uri Klauzner play two men traversing the public stairways of Haifa in Israeli director Elad Keidan's debut feature

Two men (Itay Tiran and Uri Klauzner), who knew each other years ago, take separate paths on the winding public stairways of Haifa, one going up and the other going down, in Israeli writer-director Elad Keidan’s rambling debut feature. While some sense of thematic coherence is uncovered by the end, it's a schlepp getting to that point, made more tedious by the obnoxiousness of one of its two main characters. Even with the leg up of a Cannes premiere, this will struggle to find its feet on the international circuit beyond Israel.

After a long, panoramic shot of Haifa underscored by an aural collage of unrelated radio snippets, phone conversations and the like which goes on far too long, the focus settles in on middle-aged Moshe (Klauzner, who has the sad eyes of a Labrador begging at the table) at home. Moshe's musician wife Na'va (Michaela Eshet, from A Strange Course of Events), clearly not quite as happy in their marriage as he is, has lost a much-loved earring. Moshe decides to go look for it outside. This inciting incident sets him on a journey that will take him from their apartment downtown by shore up Mount Carmel to the fancier neighborhoods via a network of paved public stairways carved into the hillside. Along the way he plans to stop and collect the change from the mechanical, coin-operated horse rides for children that stand outside various Haifa stores which he owns.

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Meanwhile, up the mountain, self-absorbed poet manqué Uri (Tiran) has decided on this momentous day for him to walk down the stairs to the port where he plans to sail away on a freighter so he can live abroad for a while. From conversations he has on the phone with friends and family, and the acquaintances he runs into on the way, it's revealed that he's dodging several things: an ex-girlfriend who's still pissed with him, his buddies in a barbershop quartet who he's fallen out with over an affair with one the four's girlfriend, and most importantly the Army, to whom he should be reporting today for a spell of military service. At various stops he insists on inflicting his pretentious writings on friends and sometimes total strangers, which perhaps sound better in Hebrew.

Moshe represents a more sympathetic character, especially when his plotline turns into a melancholy comedy after a twist that finds him hooking up with a man he should have every reason to despise, but doesn't. But he's also a bit of doormat, and it's not hard by the end to see why his wife is fed up with him.

Although it's obvious from the off that the two men will eventually meet around the halfway point, Keidan's script builds in extra symmetries, with characters cropping up in both storylines, echoed lines of dialogue, and recurrent motifs throughout. But like the path on the stairways, the film is full of a lot of clutter, and might have been much punchier with fewer self-consciously literary tropes and a short-length running time. The fact that the filmmakers have chosen to shoot in a boxy, TV-friendly ratio seems perverse given the integral part landscape plays in the story.

Production companies: An EZ Films, Spiro Films production, in co-production with Digital District, Cinephase
Cast: Itay Tiran, Uri Klauzner, Michaela Eshet
Director/screenwriter: Elad Keidan
Producers: Elie Meirovitz, Eitan Mansuri, Danny Goldberg, Jonathan Doweck
Director of photography: Yaron Scharf
Editor: Arik Lahav-Leibovitch
Production designer: Dina Kornveits
Costume designer: Keren Eyal-Melamed
Composer: The Match Factory
No rating, 105 minutes