Lipstikka: Berlin Review

A subtle and gripping tale about the way memory plays tricks.

Canadian director Jonathan Sagall’s London-set drama, competing at Berlin, is an intriguing and gripping story of two women whose lives are affected in different ways after a dramatic incident.

BERLIN – Canadian director Jonathan Sagall’s intriguing drama Lipstikka tells of two women whose memory of a dramatic incident is markedly different, thus affecting their lives in complicated ways. The nature of their relationship at the time and the way their lives have turned out give Sagall’s four actresses plenty to work with. So the film should thrive at festivals and find appreciative audiences, especially among women, in key territories.

Set in London with flashbacks to 1994, the film concerns an encounter of two Palestinian teenagers with two Israeli solders during the intifada. More of a human drama than a political one, it still hinges on the fact that in the circumstances the girls had no control over their fate.

Clara Khoury plays Lara, who explains in a voiceover that she has accepted her life, which is one of suburban London comfort with a spotless home, a smart son and a businessman husband named Michael (Daniel Caltagirone) who hasn’t slept with her since the boy was born. She keeps herself in good shape, however, with just a little vodka to soften the world.

A knock at the door one day brings a face from her past, Inam (Nataly Attiya), a slim beauty who looks little frazzled and has an edgy manner. Flashbacks reveal that Inam had a relationship with Michael before they married, and the two women also shared an intimacy felt more deeply by Lara.

Their relationship is even more complicated due to the incident more than 15 years earlier when they broke curfew to go to see a movie in old Jerusalem. The young Inam (Moran Rosenblatt) was pretty and boy-crazy while young Lara (Ziv Weiner) viewed her friend’s adventures with jealousy.

Sagall gives over information about the earlier event in pieces. It involved a sexual encounter between Inam and one of the soldiers, but exactly what happened depends on very different points of view. He also reveals only slowly the truth of the women’s lives today. This makes for growing suspense, especially when Inam elects to pick up Lara’s son from school without telling her.

As the grown-up Lara, Khoury offers a telling portrayal of a woman whose life did not turn out as she expected but has managed to make the most of it. Elegant and sweet looking, Khoury very subtly unveils the steel that Lara has learned to deploy. Meanwhile Weiner is effective as the young Lara, all watchful and self-contained.

Attiya keeps Inam’s nervousness just barely under control. With just a look or change of vocal tone she suggests that she could easily fall apart.

Rosenblatt has in many ways the toughest assignment since she must act more or less the same scene in two sharply different ways -- as a sexy teenager in control of events, and as a victim of sexual brutality. Her's is the standout performance of the film, first smiling and provocative, and then knowing and sacrificial. Her scenes underpin what develops between the grownup women and help give Sagall’s film a satisfying resonance.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Competition)
Production: Obelis Productions, John Reiss & Assoc., Monumental Productions
Cast: Clara Khoury, Nataly Attiya, Moran Rosenblatt, Ziv Weiner
Director-screenwriter: Jonathan Sagall
Producers: Guy Allon, Jonathan Sagall
Directors of photography: Xiaxosu Han, Andreas Thalhammer
Production designers: Myles Grimsdale, Ofer Shara
Music: Jody Jenkins
Editor: Yuval Netter
Sales: Obelis Productions
No rating, 90 minutes