'Barash': San Sebastian Review

Barash - H 2015
Courtesy of Laila Films
Girls don't want to feel numb.

A female-focused Israeli rebel romance.

In Barash, an Israeli school girl struggles painfully towards liberation from her family, and from everything they stand for before finding salvation in the arms of a girlfriend. Put like that, it’s a familiar lesbian coming-of-age story, and indeed the film teems with the cliches and stereotypes of the genre, but there’s still a freshness of observation and a sparky sense of wonder about its protagonists which means that Michal Vinik’s debut feature retains the keen edge of authentic experience.

Locate the whole thing in a very specific context — contemporary Israel, portrayed here as no place for young women — and the result is an engagingly free-spirited but minor-key character study which should sit easiest on the LGBT festival circuit. Early sales to some English language territories suggest that Barash may also have a more general teen appeal.

The film’s title is the family surname, which is about the only thing that unites them. It opens with a brief, exhilarating rush of energy which quickly gives way to the depiction of a family group which, in its sheer glumness, borders on dark comedy. At 17, Naama (Sivan Noam Shimon, looking a little old for seventeen) shares the house with her younger brother and her mother Michel (Irit Pashtan), timidly trying and failing to build bridges between Naama and Gidon (Dvir Benedek), her bearlike, overbearing father, sexist and racist. Naama’s older sister Liora (Bar Ben Vakil), a soldier in the Israeli military, has gone AWOL and can’t be traced. Early scenes feature surely one of the most depressing barbecues ever committed to film.

Things are no better at school, where the students, in one nicely-executed early scene, attend a celebration of Israeli independence at which they are expected to glumly stand on the mention of of each great name before glumly sitting down again. But school also offers the new girl in the yard, the explosive blonde Hershko (Jade Sakori). Soon, Naama’s sulking and bedroom smoking have become full-blown rebellion as she falls under Hershko's sexual spell. Accompanying her mother to find her sister, the anger inside a stoned Naama explodes right into the face of a young soldier, and from there on there’ll be no looking back.

Naama’s story advances without any great surprises: we’ve met all these people before. Stylistically too, Barash is peppered with the kind of scenes we’ve come to expect of coming-of-agers — woozy, slow motion scenes of vaping, pill-popping, flashing nightclub lights where thousand of bodies dance, a dreamy sequence of rediscovered innocence on a play park swing, and, most damagingly, the final scene.

The film’s real interest is in the well-observed portrayal of it relationships, particularly the one hesitantly developing between Naama and Hershko, which culminates in an authentically passionate but over-long sex scene. The expression in the already expressive eyes of Naama as she walks down the road in a post-coital trance show how far she’s committed herself to Hershko — but of course, with commitment comes vulnerability. It emerges that Liora too has run off with a Palestinian, which is about the worst thing that Gidon can imagine: both his daughters are seeking relationships in the "wrong" places and will bond late on in a wonderfully judged bedroom conversation.

What distinguishes Barash is its emphasis on the political context, and it is gently subversive in showing the way that the effects of a defensive, security-obsessed and uniform politics has made its impact on the heart of family life, against its intentions potentially creating a generation of rebels. The comic relief offered by the authoritarian figure of Gidon when he insists that he talk to an Israeli, not a Palestinian policeman, is not really comic at all, but dangerous.

Music is basically urgent indie pop, overused, so that when a little bit of Tchaikovsky somehow finds its way in to accompany a family car journey, it comes as a welcome change. Visually, DP Shai Peleg opts for natural light where possible, ironically casting the events with bright sheen of a standard summer romance.

Production company: Lama Films

Cast: Sivan Noam Shimon, Jade Sakori, Divr Benedek, Irit Pashtan, Bar Ben Vakil, Reut Akkerman

Director, screenwriter: Michal Vinik

Producers: Amir Harel, Ayelet Kait

Director of photography: Shai Peleg

Production designer: Shunit Aharoni

Composer: Daphna Keenan

Casting director: Orit Azulay

Sales: M-appeal World Sales

No rating, 85 minutes