SUNDANCE REVIEW: Israeli Film 'Restoration' a Quality, if Somber, Picture That Could Find Art-House Success

An old-fashioned slice of life from Israel more personal than political.

The film, part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, is the kind of small-scale, well-crafted story that used to be a staple of European cinema and is rarely seen nowadays, at least in the U.S.


PARK CITY -- An Israeli film more about the internal state of its characters than the state of the country, Restorationis the kind of small-scale, well-crafted story that used to be a staple of European cinema and is rarely seen nowadays, at least in the U.S. It's still a potent formula in the hands of fine actors and a director like Yossi Madmony who knows how to slowly build a story with small strokes and telling details. This kind of quality, if somewhat somber, picture could find some success at what remains of art houses and enjoy a solid afterlife in home viewing.

Veteran Israeli actor Sasson Gabay plays Fidelman, an old-fashioned wood restorer who is lost after his partner of 40 years passes away. With a perpetual two-day growth and a scowl on his face, Fidelman is as broken down as the shop he runs in an old section of Tel Aviv. Since the death of his wife and growing distance from his son Noah (Nevo Kimchi), Fidelman seems to have little connection to the world beyond the sawdust of workplace.

But this is not exactly a booming business and Noah is eager to turn the property into apartments, further alienating father and son. Even the pregnancy of Noah's wife Hava (Sarah Adler) does little to lift the old man's spirits. Against all odds, he is holding on to the life he has known for years, and something has to change.

When that change arrives it's hardly noticeable. Fidelman hires Anton (Henry David) to help him clean up and do menial work around the shop. He's a mysterious young man running away form his family's wealth and his past as an accomplished musician. It's never really explained what has set him on this path, but gradually he and Fidelman form a fragile bond, replacing the one missing with his son. Further complicating this triangle is an attraction between Anton and Sarah.

As Fidelman's finances become more desperate, Anton discovers an antique Steinway piano in the store that could solve all their problems if it can be restored. But that requires a recast metal frame and delicate scrapping and staining, work that brings the old man and his helper closer together.

Madmony moves things along at a deliberate pace, calibrating the subtle emotional swing. At the center is Gabay's reserved but powerful performance, building to the point where he will have to choose between his spiritual son and his biological son. He is able to suggest a world of hidden feelings by just shifting his gaze. And cinematographer Boaz Yehonatan's old world lighting effectively adds to the dark, brooding tone.

Ultimately, the film is more about Fidelman's restoration than the piano's. The story feels so real that one can imagine it continuing after the film is over. Life goes on.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Production companies: Yezira Ivrit
Cast: Sasson Gabay, Henry David, Nevo Kimchi, Sarah Adler, Ruth Borenstein
Director: Yossi Madmony
Screenwriter: Erez Kav-El
Producer: Chaim Sharir
Director of photography: Boaz Yehonatan Yacov
Production designer: Yoav Sinai
Music: Avi Belleli
Costume designer: Keren Ron
Editor: Ayala Bengad
No rating, running time 106 minutes