‘Atlit’ (‘Rendez-vous a Atlit’): Film Review

Courtesy of Ad Vitam
A breezy, intermittently engaging dramedy about a vacation home haunted by memories and much more

Writer-director Shirel Amitai's debut feature follows three sisters returning to Israel

Sentiments and politics are blended together in only partially compelling ways in Atlit (Rendez-vous a Atlit), a Franco-Israeli family dramedy about three sisters returning to the Holy Land so they can sell their parents’ beloved country house. Released at a timely moment that sees many French Jews moving to Israel in order to escape a hostile climate back home, the 1995-set story nonetheless fails to capitalize on a potentially thought-provoking scenario, opting instead for schmaltzy storytelling and predictable sibling rivalries, with a few welcome nods to actual historical events.

Written and directed by first-timer Shirel Amitai, who worked as a 1st AD and co-writer for Jacques Rivette and Claire Simon, the modest co-production should see some traction for its local release, banking off likeable turns by stars Geraldine Nakache (All That Glitters), Judith Chemla (Camille Rewinds) and Yael Abecassis (Kadosh). Overseas interest could extend beyond fests and Francophone territories to include small-scale distributors marketing Atlit to older crowds.

It’s been a while since prickly middle-sis, Cali (Nakache), flighty younger-sis, Asia (Chemla) and bossy older-sis, Darel (Abecassis), returned to the film’s titular Israeli city, located on the Mediterranean coast about an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv. It’s there that the girls’ dearly departed parents, Mona (Arsinee Khanjian) and Zack (Pippo Delbono), built a ramshackle but tasteful vacation home that they left in the hands of their daughters, who’ve agreed to clear it out and sell to the highest bidder.

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But being reunited in the place where they shared so many memories makes each of them question their decision, especially at a time when Israel, under the leadership of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, seems to be heading toward a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians. Things are further complicated by the fact that Mona and Zack start popping back into the picture, first in dreams and then as a pair of friendly ghosts in broad daylight, literally haunting the place with their kvetching.

Tossing angry siblings into a country house to resolve their various issues is nothing new in French cinema, and Amitai repeats some of the typical clichés of the genre, with each sister acting out according to their order of birth – until the three wind up separating, leaving Cali on her own. Even then, the director adapts a whimsical approach that focuses on the phantom parents and, later, on the appearance of a mysterious Palestinian boy, rather than on material that feels both crucial and real.

Thankfully, reality sets in again when the girls get back together to attend the November 4th mass rally in Tel Aviv, only to learn on the way that Rabin has been killed. Amitai stages the scene on a highway at night, where cars have stopped in the middle of the road as news of the assassination spreads on the radio. It’s a powerful sequence that shows how the personal and the political can collide into a single moment that changes the course of lives – and, sadly, would divert Israel from its course of peace.

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More such scenes would have been welcome in a movie that flirts with interesting themes but never digs deeply enough, even if the performances are strong from both the French and Israeli cast members – including Yossi Marshak (Don’t Mess with the Zohan) as an incredibly patient real estate broker who has the hots for Darel.

Tech credits capture the sights and sounds of the quiet seaside town, with its warm nights, passing trains and ricochets of gunfire from a nearby military base. Production designers Laurence Struz and Ofir Hazan do a fine job making the two-story stucco home feel both lived in and neglected, lining the walls with old books, board games and other childhood relics.

Production companies: En Compagnie des Lamas, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Geraldine Nakache, Judith Chemla, Yael Abecassis, Arsinee Khanjian, Pippo Delbono, Makram J. Khoury, Yossi Marshak
Director, screenwriter: Shirel Amitai
Producer: Sandrine Brauer
Executive producer: Yochanon Kredo, Elion Ratzkovsky
Director of photography: Boaz Yehonatan Yacov
Production designers: Nitsa Rosenthalis Lavi, Eyal Elhadad
Editor: Frederic Baillehaiche
Composer: Reno Isaac
Casting directors: Stephane Batut, Yael Aviv
Sales: Indie Sales

No rating, 91 minutes