'Redemption': Film Review

Redemption-Publicity still-H 2019
Israel Film Center Festival
A familiar story affectingly told through an unusual prism.

An ultra-orthodox Jewish man is forced to re-form his former secular rock band to pay for his young daughter's cancer treatments in Joseph Madmony and Boaz Yehonatan Yacov's Israeli drama.

Stories revolving around old bands getting back together are a dramatic staple, but co-directors Joseph Madmony and Boaz Yehonatan Yacov's Israeli drama gives it an uncommonly fresh spin. Their film concerns Menachem (Moshe Folkenflik), the former singer of a popular rock band who gave up his musical career 15 years earlier after becoming deeply religious. Now faced with huge medical bills for the experimental treatments that his seriously ill little daughter desperately needs, he's forced to resume his former lifestyle. Redemption, the opening film of the Israel Film Center Festival, is a moving tale whose universal themes should resonate even with even audiences not familiar with its milieu.

The film's Israel title is Geula, which is both Hebrew for "redemption" and the name of the 6-year-old daughter (Emily Granin) of Menachem, commonly referred to as "Menny," a widower who ekes out a living stocking shelves at a grocery store. Menachem's lack of finances has become an issue because of Geula's potentially fatal cancer and the costly treatments which have resulted in her wearing a wig to cover her bald pate.

In an effort to improve his fortunes, Menny, whose wife also died of the disease, sees a matchmaker in the hopes of finding a woman of means. But he's too bogged down in his worries to even smile for his photograph, and his attempt at romance doesn't go well when his date tells him she's not interested in Hassidic men.

Menny has little choice but to convince the former players of his former band High Beams to reunite. It takes some convincing, since Dani (Shahar Even-Tzur) owns a restaurant and the others, Avi (Sivan Shtivi) and Guli (Yonatan Galila), have similarly moved on with their lives. They willingly agree after becoming aware of Geula's dire condition, although they're not too thrilled about Menachem's newfound religiosity and insistence on only playing weddings rather than the lucrative and secular club circuit.

These are situations that could easily have been played for either bathos or cheap laughs, but the filmmakers (who co-wrote the screenplay with Erez Kavel) manage to avoid both. The scenes depicting Menachem's interactions with his daughter are consistently touching but admirably restrained in their emotionality. And while the musical reunion among the old friends features amusing moments thanks to their wildly divergent personalities, it avoids the clichés one might have expected. The pic includes numerous scenes of the reformed band playing their music, and it turns out to be enjoyable pop/rock that makes their former popularity, and the possibility that they might achieve it again, quite credible.   

The lead performances are an important element in the film's impact. Granin delivers a sweetly naturalistic, vulnerable performance as the little girl desperate to live as normal a life as possible under the circumstances, while Folkenflik underplays beautifully as the emotionally withdrawn father torn between his religious convictions and his desperation to prevent his daughter from suffering the same fate as her mother.

The story often goes in unexpected directions. Among the quietly compelling scenes is one in which bandmate Dani's longtime girlfriend (Sedi Bar) secretly meets with Menny to offer him money for Geula's treatments. She eventually reveals that her motives don't entirely stem from compassion; she's desperate to start a family, and worries that Dani's regained passion for music will prevent him from making such a commitment. When she points out that Menny is foolish to think that the band could regain their former success, he turns angrily defensive, telling her how he's still approached by fans even after so many years have passed.

Redemption features many such incisive moments, treating its characters and situations with a subtle complexity that transcends the story's familiar-feeling elements. Even at its most low-key, the film features a rare depth of feeling.

Production company: Transfax Film Productions
Distributor: Menemsha Films
Cast: Moshe Molkenflik, Emily Granin, Sivan Shtiv, Shahar Even-Tzur, Yonatan Galila, Sedi Bar
Directors: Joseph Madmony, Boaz Yehonatan Yacov
Screenwriters: Joseph Madmony, Boaz Yehonatan Yacov, Erez Kavel
Producers: Jonathan Rozenbaum, Marek Rozenbaum, Michael Rozenbaum
Director of photography: Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov
Editor: Ayala Bengad
Composer: Assaf Talmudi
Casting: Michael Elias
Venue: Israel Film Center Festival

104 minutes