God’s Neighbours: violence and (religious) order on the streets of Bat-Yam
- In his first film, Israeli filmmaker Meni Yaesh portrays a group of friends using force to implement religious rules
God’s Neighbours [+see also:
film profile], written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Meni Yaesh, tackles the complex yet always renewable thematic triangle of religion, violence, and sex. The film is currently running in the Critics’ Week competition and vying for the Caméra d'Or for best first feature film in Cannes.
Yaesh (31 years old), who in his short film Eiko (2008) had already shot the story of a young Jewish man from Bat-Yam torn between religion and hedonist nights in Tel Aviv, returns to the same suburban setting to tell the tale of three friends who readily resort to violence to guarantee that their neighbours behave according to the rules and morality dictated by religion. This mission of sorts, that brings together the three youths, is obvious from the film’s first magnificent and contradictory scenes. The group’s leader Avi (Roy Assaf) prays in his room, then minutes later gets into a fight with a group of youth who are drinking and listening to techno music in the street. His friends Kobi (Gal Friedman) and Lugassi (Itzik Golan) help him. This behaviour, whether in the form of physical violence or the slightly softer version of threats and insults, reproduces itself throughout the film with different targets: shop owners who don’t close of the Sabbath, street vendors selling erotic DVDs, Arabs from Jaffa, and Miri (Rotem Ziesman-Cohen), a new neighbour whose skirt is too short.
Miri, in her supposed rebellion, is the person who triggers a transition in Avi, who starts to question his and the group’s behaviour. However, Yaesh is subtle in depicting his main character’s possible change and he never falls into the implausible formula of pure love triggering redemption, mostly because love is not at the core of the film. Instead, in the middle of several fights, the idea that emanates is that this almost daily violence is nothing more than a sublimation of the characters’ sexual frustration. This frustration is both manipulated and rooted in a suffocating context, in which religion, in its fanatic yet socially acceptable form, is difficult to escape from.
God’s Neighbours, co-produced by Israel (Transfax) and France (Bizibi) in association with the Israel Film Fund, was shot in less than a month. It is part of the catalogue of Parisian international sales agency Rezo World Sales.
(Translated from Spanish)
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