GEMS 2015: Yona Fails to Capture the Essence of Real-Life Poet Yona Wallach
Courtesy of Miami International Film Festival
Acting as a preview to the yearly Miami International Film Festival put on by Miami Dade College being held in March 2016, GEMS boasts a small collection of films screening at the Tower Theater daily starting today through Sunday. Compared to last year’s MIFFecito mini-fest, things look promising. The lineup, which features some well-received films that have screened at Cannes, Berlin, and Sundance, also includes films that will more than likely please crowds and offer up cool and controversial content.
One such film is Yona. Calling Yona a perfectly serviceable, by-the-book biopic for American audiences would be a stretch. The film focuses on a minor portion of a real person's life while ignoring, or rather exploiting, certain things that make them interesting human beings and misrepresenting said person in the worst ways. In the case of Yona Wallach, all that director Nir Bergman is interested in is ensuring that she comes across as crazy and sexual in her youth, because apparently that's all that mattered in her quest to becoming a great poet. In other words: Yona doesn't care enough about the real life poet or the poetry to be anything of particular worth.
The film covers minor portions of Israeli poet Yona Wallach's life (with an emphasis on 1964 and 1969) and relegates nearly half of her life to three sentences that come right before the credits. One of the few things it does right is offer up a small, but admittedly insignificant and sanitized, portrait of Israel in the sixties — a refreshing contrast to the abundance of films about the queer male beat poets of America. The two main things that it focuses on are her two stints in an asylum (one self-committed and the other due to a suicide attempt) and her abundant sexuality.
The problem with the former is that is essentially devolves into the same, tiresome routine in which a woman who has dealt with serious issues — dead father, sick mother, abortion, suicide — is not taken seriously by a filmmaker, and simply stuck into an asylum to rehash old tropes. The problem with the latter, arguably more frustrating, is that it entirely ignores Wallach's bisexuality except for two key scenes: the film's only explicit sex scene, which features an all-female threesome that culminates in an upside-down full-frontal shot of two men removing their pants because they're aroused by what they witness; and a scene in which she calls a gay man who formerly told her that he came out to his parents because of her poetry a "dumb homosexual" for laughs.
Hand in hand with those issues come the film's visual blandness, except for one scene in which Yona has an LSD trip and the film tries to break out of its beige heavy color palette for a short moment. It's a shame to witness a queer poet who is so genuinely interesting be slammed with a biopic as unfortunately impersonal as Yona is.
Various films screening daily starting today, Thursday, October 22, until Sunday, October 25. Visit miamifilmfestival.com/gems for a complete schedule of films. Yona screens Saturday, October 24, at 3:45 p.m. and Sunday, October 25, at noon at MDC's Tower Theater.
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