Lilith Unfair

Although beautiful to look at, this Israeli film can't manage to say much

Another plus is the painterly, luminous camerawork of cinematographer Renato Berta, the European maestro who has lensed for just about every auteur imaginable: Fassbinder, Tanner, Godard, Rohmer, Rivette, Techine, Malle, Resnais -- you name 'em, he's shot for 'em.

Kadosh is Berta's third film with Gitai, and their close collaboration shows. Despite the drab, spare surroundings of the characters, Berta's use of light and shadow offers beauty in the ordinary. An onion, layered and juicy, is sliced in closeup. A platter of food sits steaming on a highly polished wood table, untouched, while Meir and Rivka sit apart, struggling with their emotions.

Still, even Berta merits a critical whack or two. His glowing compositions tend to emphasize this film's inertia. Characters look placed, posed before the locked down camera that rarely pans and almost never moves. The film seems suspended, like a fly in amber, all midrange shots and midrange focus. The emphasis is on observation, not revelation.

Yael Abecassis is trapped in an ultra-Orthodox life and a very long film
Yael Abecassis is trapped in an ultra-Orthodox life and a very long film

That might be this film's weakness in a nutshell. Gitai seems happy to record a series of events but doesn't manage to offer any insight or perspective. When Malka finally leaves her airless marriage, she walks out into the hills overlooking the city, headed for a future we know nothing of or care much about. She could and should have walked out in her first scene, sparing herself a lot of grief and us the torture of watching her suffer. What's the point of watching women get beat up? Gitai doesn't say.

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