'Beyond the Mountains and Hills' ('Me’ever Laharim Vehagvaot'): Cannes Review

Me'ever Laharim Vehagvaot - H 2016
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A poignant and political family drama hampered by languid pacing.

Writer-director Eran Kolirin ('The Band's Visit') screened his third feature in Cannes.

As titles go, Beyond the Mountains and Hills (Me’ever Laharim Vehagvaot) is a rather poetic one, and it takes on several meanings in Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin’s latest film, which premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar.

First, it describes the landscape lying just outside the apartment complex where a clan of four lives in relative harmony, at least for the time being. Second, it signifies the horizon toward which the father of the house — a recently retired army officer — must turn as he faces semi-retirement and an uncertain future. Finally, it designates the hidden menace faced by the rest of the family as they make life-changing decisions that will hurdle them into the unknown.

All of these factors merge together to form an intriguing, intermittently engaging drama that starts off lightly and moves into significantly darker territory as time progresses. Kolirin — whose debut feature, The Band’s Visit, (starring the late Ronit Elkabetz) was a minor hit back in 2007 — crafts a witty and finely tuned study of personal crises, whether of the mid-life or teenage order, though his film’s lethargic pace may make this one a tough sell outside the niche art house circuit.

David Greenbaum (Alon Pdut) is finally coming home after 27 years of military service, and at the start it looks like his very nuclear family is in decent shape. His wife Rina (Shiree Nadav-Naor) teaches at a local high school, his adolescent daughter Ifat (Mili Eshet) is caught up in anti-army protests but otherwise seems to have a good head on her shoulders, and his son Omri (Noam Imber) mostly stays in the background.

But as David embarks on a new phase of his life, trying his hand at marketing dietary supplements, his household starts to fall apart, especially after he frustratingly fires his gun into the “hills” of the film’s title and winds up killing an innocent Palestinian. As it turns out, the victim had met Ifat just a few days before, and while the young girl goes off on a guilt trip that will take her into dicey territory, Rina begins having an affair with one of her teenage students (Yoav Rothman) — in a subplot that will eventually connect with the greater story of David’s unraveling.

Like an Israeli American Beauty, Beyond is very much about what lurks beneath the facade of a seemingly perfect family — the frustration and disillusion, but also the bonds that hold people together through thick and thin. While that isn't the most original theme to tackle, Kolirin adds a more compelling element by focusing on the politically charged atmosphere of contemporary Israel, including the constant hunt for terrorists and the bomb scares faced by residents on a daily basis.

At times, he and DP Shai Goldman (The Kindergarten Teacher) transform such incidents into visual poetry, such as in a memorable sequence where Rina directs her students through a shelter drill like a choreographer working a team of ballet dancers. But there are also moments when the rhythm, despite an efficient 90-minute running time, seems to drag, and though Beyond offers a decent payoff during the third act, it takes a while to get there and loses some intensity along the way.

The cast does a good job channeling the quiet angst experienced by the Greenbaums, who are clearly one of those families who prefer to sweep any major issues under the rug rather than lay them out on the table. Pdut shoulders much of the dramatic weight in the film’s first half, aptly conveying David’s looming sense of worthlessness. About midway through, the narrative viewpoint shifts to the trajectories of his daughter and wife — with Eshet and Nadav-Naor, both excellent, portraying two women in search of a man to fill the chasm opened up by David’s return.

Production companies: July August Productions, Entre Chien et Loup, Match Factory Productions
Cast: Alon Pdut, Mili Eshet, Shiree Nadav-Naor, Noam Imber, Yoav Rothman
Director, screenwriter: Eran Kolirin
Producers: Eilon Ratzkovsky, Yochanan Kredo, Yossi Uzrad, Lisa Shiloach Uzrad, Guy Jacoel
Director of photography: Shai Goldman
Production designer: Miguel Merkin
Costume designer: Doron Ashkenazi
Editor: Arik Lahav-Leibovich
Composer: Asher Goldschmidt
Casting director: Orit Azoulay
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Sales agent: The Match Factory

In Hebrew
98 minutes