Not in Tel Aviv: AFI Fest Review

An erratic low-budgeter about misfits on the run plays like an Israeli version of a U.S. indie.

The absurdist comedy from Israeli writer-director Nony Geffen sees him star as teacher whose firing sends him on a crime spree.

A low-budget, black-and-white, alt-rock-backed tale of a misfit renegade and two woman on the road, Not in Tel Aviv seems like just another self-absorbed Amerindie except that it's from Israel. Shot in 12 days on a miniscule budget, first-time writer-director Nony Geffen has cast himself as a disaffected school teacher whose firing prompts him to kidnap an alluring blond student, shoot his mother in a mercy killing and pick up yet another young woman he's fancied for years while casually eluding the police. An absurdist comedy with an emphasis on the absurd, this winner of a special jury prize at the Locarno Film Festival shows a certain talent for deadpan comedy and a kind of rigorous arbitrariness about what it reveals and withholds, but will mostly be limited to specialized festival play internationally.

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Anyone partial to applying even limited standards of realism and credibility to a narrative will be put off by the way the impulsive Micha (Geffen) packs the bewilderingly unresistant Anna (Ya'ara Pelzig, of last year's outstanding Policeman) into his car, puts down his terminally mom (whose last words--“Yell at her less! Let yourself be loved!”--express motherly concern), orders Anna to pick up pizza stand babe Nony (Romi Aboulafia) for him and then drives around unapprehended while, on pit stops, getting both women to sleep with him.

Both passive and aggressive in the extreme, Micha is not very good company, while the women are aggravating to the degree that they indulge Micha's manipulations and fail to act in their own best interests. But if you can get past all that, there is a measure of dark humor to be found in some of the situations—the trio's interruption of an older women's female empowerment group meeting is a highlight—and in the unusual, deliberately jarring, likely Godard-influenced rhythms of the cutting and use of music by Israeli indie artist Uzi Ramirez, which range from discordant hard rock and folksy whimsy to a lilting banjo version of Beautiful Dreamer.

The anarchic Micha is anti-social in a way that may appeal to some young viewers, but his actions and abrupt mood changes mostly come off as random and reckless, with no real purpose other than general contrariness. That the police don't catch up with him much sooner is a major contrivance. When, late in their odyssey, Anna asks, “What's the plan? I'm bored,” it seems a question she might have joined the audience in asking much earlier.

Fleet shooting style of Geffen and cinematographer Ziv Bercovich gives the film visual vitality and both Pelzig and Aboulafia are moody and edgy enough to sustain interest in their characters.

Venue: AFI Film Festival (New Auteurs)

Production: Laila Films

Cast: Nony Geffen, Romi Aboulafia, Ya'ara Pelzig, Tal Friedman, Rotem Bar Or, Anat Atzmon

Director: Nony Geffen

Screenwriter: Nony Geffen

Producer: Itai Tamir

Executive producers: Mike Altmann, Byron Habinsky, Nimrod Nir, Kobi Vaknin

Director of photography: Ziv Bercovich

Production designer: Sharonh Eagle

Costume designer: Naama Preis

Editor: Tal Hake

Music: Uzi Ramirez

82 minutes