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May 11, 2005

The Sky Is Crying

"The sky is crying...", sings Stevie Ray Vaughan in my ears, after I left the theater already empty, and it is not a coincidence. Nina's Tragedies (Ha-Asonot Shel Nina, 2003), written and directed by Savi Gabizon, is not just a tragedy but a song of hope, like "Hatikva", the Israeli National Anthem. This film is not just a comedy drama but a healthy self-critic. Like classic Jewish jokes, with which usually Jewish people are the first in laughing. From a man bursting plastic bubbles delightfully while Nina (Ayelet Zurer) cries about her dead husband Haimon (Yoram Hattab), to a woman with big awful stings in her face that believes a comment about her "big improvement since yesterday"... All of them caressing the cynicism and refreshing the philosophy that even in worst tragedies, humans need to defense against suffering, and laugh is the best medicine.

All Nina's tragedies are narrated by Nina's nephew Nadav (Aviv Elkabeth) -in his debut-. And sometimes we forget about Nina, to dive in the film like in those books that we can enjoy even in a crowded subway, because we loose the sense of time. Gabizon has a literary richness without over-sighting everyday dialogues. Nina suffers a marriage that is destined to fail, passing through dead, psychotic sensations, a forbidden love with Avinoam (Alon Abutbul) charged of mix-up, and other little inconveniences turned also into tragedy by domino effect. Young Nadav is more mature than most of the adults, like friend Menahem (Dov Navon) that spies Nina with him, father Amnon (Shmil Ben Ari) that cannot face up the separation with her wife, and eccentric mother Alona (Anat Waxman), that brings home different lovers in front of him, but overprotect him from looking at his sick father.

The cast was carefully chosen, most of them with a huge experience in Israeli films and TV. From beautiful, expressive and acclaimed Ayelet Zurer, to versatile Yoram Hattab, or moving Alon Abutbul (highly demanded in local productions), to a lovely and simple but deep Dov Navon, and accurate Anat Waxman and Shmil Ben Ari. Gabizon returns to the big screen after eight years of absence since Lovesick On Nana Street, another comedy drama which brings us insane love under a realistic portrayal of a crazy house in the dead-end Israeli suburbs.

Some rare scenes produce a kind of noise in Nina's Tragedies that for some moments wake up spectators from nightmare with the delicate and difficult touch of tragicomedy. Yoram Hattab reappearance as Alex maybe is a turn to the screw almost extreme, but Jewish heritage and culture is accustomed to extremes, from the usual other's overprotection to the historical persecutions. It’s a society that with laughter, weeping, a sharp criticism, and a strong union has survived collectively to more than one tragedy. Now in the midst of one of the bigger Israel's economic crisis, with around 20% of the population living below the poverty line, Gabizon shows more extreme situations, without which this would be a totally different film. Nina has so bad luck that not only the new neighbor is a replica of her dead husband, but also when she is going to the hospital to give birth to "little Haimon", the car breaks and suddenly begins to rain.

The sky is crying, and this time is not only about Shakespeare, Beckett or Nina's tragedies, but also the rest of character's tragedies. Nadav in love with his aunt, his mother full of lovers but empty of love, his father with a terminal illness, Menahem resigned and passive, Avinoam without Nina, and Nina as usual, crying too. In the exploration of this tragicomedy, the relationships between man and supernatural fate are worked mixing humor with sadness. In his book Poetics, Aristotle argued that the object of tragedy is to arouse a feeling of awe and wonder in the audience and have a cathartic affect, to purge the audience of these emotions. And we can feel that here. Mel Brooks used to say: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you fall down an open sewer and die". Just in the beginning, a wheel that seems to break while carrying a coffin announces it; a loud utterance of emotion in the shape of drops. Those clear solutions full of protein that we don't want them but we need them: memories, pain, anger, or an uncontrolled laughter, all of them extreme emotional feelings.

Rituals and Hasidic dance invade Israel streets that I still haven't visited but it seems like I was there before. Suddenly that joy is steamed up with Amnom's face, taking consciousness about his near death. A military crew goes to notify a mother about his son's death in terrorist's hands, but something that unfortunately occurs often, is magically depicted with a new acid and funny comment: "Why are you with those white pants? Aren't they used for some popular dance?", says the high range command to Avinoam. One more time, as a Ying Yang symbol, the good and the bad are definitely close and melt down in a same unique thing. And a new smile rises as a defense against tragedies, in a film that won twelve Israeli Academy Awards in 2003, including Best Picture. When lack of hope is overwhelming and seems to be unavoidable, "...the hope will not be lost...", says one "Hatikva"'s verse. And after a lot of mix-up, the encounter finally arrives.

A few days ago I had the possibility of assisting to a Nathaniel Dorsky's conference, writer of Devotional Cinema, experimental filmmaker, and a man with an amazing particular view about life. When I asked him why most of his films show a constant movement, he replied that stillness is always represented in a time and space that generate some movement in itself. A stillness that in shy and quiet Nadav is moving more than ever, while he looks over the sky, smiling and crying. Understanding that we could change destiny, and sometimes happiness is closer than we think. Nina's baby is Cristina's baby in Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu's 21 Grams. As "Hatikva", the baby's crying is a song of hope in the midst of tragedies. I leave the theater already empty, and the sky is crying. I think about the parent's pride by the sacred fire that everyone has. I think about hard times and how we can overcome them. For a moment I become Nadav, who like Nina, turns a tragedy into hope.

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