Lullaby To My Father: Venice Review

Discursively essayistic documentary on an eminent Israeli architect falls down both structurally and content-wise.

Prolific director Amos Gitai profiles his architect parent in this Swiss/Israeli/French co-production.

VENICE - Only the most attentive viewers will be able to avoid sleepiness during Amos Gitai's Lullaby To My Father, a heartfelt but tediously garbled tribute by the prolific Israeli writer-director to his eminent architect dad. Co-produced with France and Switzerland, it opens in the former territory on Jan. 16 as a prelude to a double-DVD release along with this Gitai's mother-centric companion-piece, Carmel (2009).

Theatrical prospects look decidedly dim, and Jeanne Moreau fans lured by the legendary actress's prominence in the credits are in for particular disappointment as her contribution, like that of equally revered German veteran Hanna Schygulla is limited to fairly brief voice-over.

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Best known for 2005's Cannes prize-winning Free Zone, Gitai's name does retain sufficient cachet to ensure a modicum of festival play following Lullaby's Lido bow. But even events and TV channels favorable to this cine-essay's particular themes and preoccupations should be able to find much more productive ways of filling their schedules.

An alumnus of the wildly influential Bauhaus architecture school, Munio Gitai Weinraub (1909-1970) narrowly escaped from Nazi-infested Germany to Haifa and was responsible for thousands of buildings in what soon became new state of Israel. But one of the many faults of Lullaby To My Father is that audiences will likely leave the film not much wiser about Weinraub's achievements and character than they were at the start.

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In unfortunate contrast to the clean, functional, Bauhaus-inspired elegance of Weinraub's designs, Gitai's cinematic construction here is a sprawling, precariously ramshackle affair. His diffuse collage is disorientingly cobbled-together from various materials including archive photographs, present-day interviews, readings from poems, letters and historical documents, a couple of violin performances and, clumiest of all, a string of stiltedly two-dimensional dramatizations often featuring Israeli actress Yael Abecassis as Gitai's mother.

Isabelle Ingold's editing can do little to salvage an enterprise whose components are near-uniformly uninspired taken in isolation (most simply trail away into a fadeout) and even less satisfactory seen as part of Gitai's elusive overall structure. Seemingly awed by the august shadow of his beloved parent, who passed away before Gitai's 21st birthday, the director takes a forbiddingly somber, aridly cerebral approach to potentially powerful material with portentous, alienating and frustrating results. Safe to say, then, that Nathaniel Kahn's piquantly illuminating My Architect - A Son's Journey (2003) remains unchallenged as the 'Pritzker' of this tiny sub-genre.


Venue: Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition), August 31, 2012.
Production companies: Agav Films Elefant Films
Cast: Yael Abecassis
Director / Screenwriter: Amos Gitai
Producers: Amos Gitai, Laurent Truchot, Michael Tapuach, Alexandre Iordachescu
Director of photography: Renato Berta
Production designer: Miguel Markin
Music: Zoe Keating
Costume designer: Moira Dougat
Editor: Isabelle Ingold
Sales agent: Agav Films, Paris
No MPAA rating, 85 minutes