'The Dive' ('Hatzlila'): Film Review | TIFF 2018

A prickly family fiction that grows on you.

Writer-director Yona Rozenkier stars along with members of his own family in this debut Israeli drama, which played in Toronto’s Contemporary World Cinema section.

In Yona Rozenkier’s intriguing feature debut, The Dive (Hatzlila), a band of three Israeli brothers return to their kibbutz for a weekend that quickly becomes explosive — and that’s not only because bombs are constantly bursting around them.

Set during the 2006 Lebanon war, this semi-autobiographical effort has the filmmaker and his siblings inspired by their own lives, resulting in a movie that can be a bit hard to relate to at first but eventually lures you in with its strong writing and performances. After stops in Locarno and Toronto, The Dive should play more fests, with possibility for niche distribution outside its homeland.

Set within a ramshackle kibbutz community on the northern border separating Israel from Lebanon, the film follows a trio of 20-to-30-something bros who reunite to bury their father’s body — or what’s left of it, as he donated most of it to science — before the youngest one, Avishai (Micha Rozenkier), heads off to battle. Indeed, war looms both in the background and foreground of Rozenkier’s script, which reveals how growing up in a country caught in perpetual conflict takes its toll on the family unit.

While the shell-shocked Avishai is first seen ducking for cover at a bus stop, the oldest of the clan, Itai (director Yona Rozenkier), is the polar opposite — he carries a gun at all times and almost resembles the Colonel Erran Morad character on Sasha Baron Coen’s Who is America? In between the two is the middle child, Yoav (Yoel Rozenkier), a sensitive veterinarian who was kicked out of the army and then moved away to Tel Aviv. His unexpected return for the burial ceremony causes sparks to fly in the household, especially when he stands up to Itai’s belligerent bullying.

At first, it’s hard to tell if The Dive is a dark comedy or a family drama — the playful score by Israel Bright leans toward the former — and the film seems tonally all over the map, throwing the brothers together without giving us the time to really know them separately. Rozenkier initially seems too close to his subject to make it palpable for the rest of us, but as the story progressives, and gets progressively darker, we are gradually immersed in his world — as well as in the very particular world of the kibbutz, which resembles a cross between a hippie commune and a military outpost.

If politics are never really part of the discussion, it’s clear that the war with Lebanon, as well as the general state of Israeli affairs, drives the family apart much more than it brings them together. And when Yoav’s best friend (Daniel Sabag) is sent off to the front, the not-so-distant battle suddenly hits home in a devastating way, revealing how the lives of young men like Avishai are forever at risk. This leads to a final confrontation between the trio that brings us to the “dive” of the title, as the boys set out to visit an underwater cave where they are meant to (rather gruesomely) scatter their father’s remaining body parts.

Sprinkled with morbid humor that reflects the state of things in Israel — or at least how they were back in 2006 — the film is mostly a serious affair despite a few jokes, following three men who are deeply effected by the strained atmosphere they live in, each of them releasing their tension in different ways. With bomb warnings constantly arriving via text messages on their phones, and explosions sounding out just a few kilometers away, it’s no wonder that none of the men look like they’ve slept for months.

Rozenkier coaxes strong turns from his cast, while proving to be a very capable actor himself. As a director, he doesn’t show much flair for style, capturing the action in simple handheld medium shots that focus entirely on the performances. There are, however, a few standout moments — especially an extended paintball fight that involves actual weapons and much aggressiveness among the brothers, simulating the real war that’s taking place just over the horizon.

Production company: Gaudeamus Productions
Cast: Yoel Rozenkier, Micha Rozenkier, Yona Rozenkier, Claudia Dulitchi, Daniel Sabag
Director, screenwriter: Yona Rozenkier
Producers: Efrat Cohen, Kobi Mizrahi
Director of photography: Oded Ashkenazi
Production designer: Yonatan Bereskin
Costume designer: Rachel Ben-Dahan
Editor: Or Lee-Tal
Composer: Israel Bright
Sales: Stray Dogs
Venues: Toronto International Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema); Locarno Film Festival (Filmmakers of the Present)

In Hebrew, Italian
91 minutes