Tehilim: Menachem’s blues
by Fabien Lemercier
Foreign cinema on Israeli soil by young French director Raphaël Nadjari made its first appearance yesterday evening in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival with Tehilim [+see also:
film profile] ("Psalms"), stirring up disconcerted curiosity from the international press.
Centred on a family in Jerusalem confronted with the mysterious disappearance of the father, the intimate and subtle film paints an almost documentary-like portrait of a teenager left feeling lost and studies the influence of religion on bewildered minds.
Through a captivating tone and realistic directing style – which gets round financial constraints to produce a successful minimalist visual style (superb nighttime scenes in chiaroscuro, the suggestive strength of close ups) – Nadjari infuses his very personalised approach to filmmaking (which focuses on humanity and its insecurities), refusing to manipulate the audience and preferring instead to lend the film an air of authenticity.
Filming for the second time in Israel, the 36 year-old director, who co-wrote the film with Vincent Poymiro, leaves the Tel Aviv of Avanim (2004) for the Jerusalem of Tehilim, while remaining faithful to his pet themes of Jewishness and family. The family in the film is composed of an authoritarian father, a loving housewife (Limor Goldstein) and their two sons, 16-17 year-old Menachem (Michael Moshonov) and 11-12 year-old David, young amateur actors remarkably cast.
After a car accident the father mysteriously disappears and his absence causes the family financial and spiritual disruption. Menachem becomes withdrawn, gives up school, his friends and his first love (with an excellent breaking up cat and mouse scene). He is lost and can only understand the situation with the help of his deeply religious grandfather and uncle.
From the conservative Talmud study centre and the police station where the small family beg for a certificate of disappearance in order to unblock the father’s bank accounts, to the apartment where the father’s absence is strongly felt, and where the mother resists the invading presence of the deeply religious family members, who use the psalms for proselytising purposes, Tehilim is, in short, a tale of disarray. Menachem’s sadness finds an absurd outlet, a discreet metaphor for a society that has lost some of its meaning.
A 79% French co-production by BVNG Productions (Frédéric Bellaiche and Geoffroy Grison) with Israeli outfit Transfax, the low-budget (€620,000) film obtained pre-sales only from Canal+. It received foreign-language film funding from the Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) and backing from Sofica Arte Cofinova.
(Translated from French)
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