Youth: Berlin Review
An amateur kidnapping plotted by two teenage brothers goes wrong in Tom Shoval’s quirky first feature.
Youth is a fetching addition to the Israeli panorama, an offbeat but not completely downbeat dramedy and coming-of-age tale that incidentally portrays the suburban class struggle and decline of the country’s middle class.
Young film writer and shorts director Tom Shoval knows that character rules in a low-budgeter and draws noteworthy perfs out of his non-pro leads, two brothers whose goofy plan to save their family from ruin by kidnapping a rich schoolgirl inevitably runs afoul. Though not as unique a standout as Rama Burstein’s Fill the Void, it similarly locates drama in everyday life. After its Berlin Panorama bow, a pick-up by Match Factory should find some cross-over dates, as well as a slew of festivals.
So close is the fraternal bond that not only do teenager Shaul (Eitan Cunio) and his brother Yaki (David Cunio) look a lot like each other; they seem to know what the other is thinking. Their sweet, sociable father is unemployed, and the family is going through hard economic times, which threaten to cost them their apartment in a satellite town outside Tel Aviv. But when Yaki enlists in the army, he comes home with a rifle that changes everything.
Feeling empowered, the boys plot a rudimentary kidnapping. First Shaul stalks the willowy Dafna (Gita Amely) on her way home from school, then he and Yaki abduct her in an alley and, being without a car, absurdly take her home on a bus. She doesn't start screaming and kicking until they dump her in an empty shelter in the basement of their apartment building. The problem is that it’s the Sabbath, and her Orthodox family, used to her absences, won’t pick up the phone with their ransom demands.
This could have been played as pure comedy, but writer-director Shoval chooses an interesting middle path that allows the tension to rise. Everything depends on the unpredictable reactions of the two brothers, whose staring blue eyes have an emptiness that threatens to turn to violence. And the ever-present rifle seems ready to go off any minute.
Dominating every scene, the Cunio brothers are unsettling figures with cinematic faces who could have posed for Diane Arbus. Shoval allows them a seemingly unmediated relationship with the camera that is quite eerie. Top Israeli actor Moshe Ivgy brings a wistful quality to their depressed father, touching in his helplessness to stop the family’s decline from middle-class respectability, while his wife (Shirili Deshe) puts on a brave front bordering on repression.
Cinematographer Yaron Scharf divides the space between the family’s suffocating but warm apartment and the cold concrete emptiness of the shelter where the girl is being held – both claustrophobic alternatives in the boys’ option-less world.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 10, 2012.
Production companies: Green Productions, United King Films in association with One Two Films
Cast: Eitan Cunio, David Cunio, Moshe Ivgy, Gita Amely, Shirili Deshe
Director: Tom Shoval
Screenwriter: Tom Shoval
Producers: Gal Greenspan, Roi Kurland, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery
Co-producers: Sol Bondy, Jamila Wenske
Director of photography: Yaron Scharf
Production designer: Carmela Sanderson
Editor: Joel Alexis
Sales Agent: The Match Factory