November 28, 2008
Suffering his choices
Israeli in New York combats ghost from the past.
The opening scene of Restless – a new film by Israeli director Amos Kollek (Fast Food, Fast Women, 2000) – shows the main character getting beaten up; an action many viewers may sympathize with before the movie ends.
Prolific actor Moshe Ivgy plays Moshe, an embittered Israeli who left his country along with his wife and newborn son 20 years ago. Failing to succeed in "the land of endless opportunity," Moshe survives by conducting low-level scams and selling counterfeit items. In one scene, we see him forging autographed photos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in another he is selling fake Dead Sea cosmetic products. The beating he receives in the beginning of the movie is at the hands of Israeli thugs to whom he sold fake jewelry. The one thing he reckons he's actually good at is making charira, a type of spicy Moroccan soup.
When not busy pulling one over on innocent shoppers or evading his landlord for due rent, Moshe regularly frequents a bar owned by a fellow Israeli, where he slowly gets drunk and writes profane poetry on napkins.
The plot of the film begins when Moshe receives a message that his wife in Israel has died. Here the story breaks up following two main plotlines: Moshe in New York and Moshe's son, Tzach, in Israel.
Tzach is a 20-year-old sergeant in an elite combat unit that operates in the West Bank. A motivated soldier, he is one of the Israel Defence Forces' most skilled snipers, adept at taking out terrorist leaders. Newly orphaned and utterly alone, Tzach (played by Israeli heartthrob Ran Danker) cuts short his mourning period and heads back to the base to partake in a mission. After successful completion, he is expelled from the unit and sent to perform routine guard duty at a checkpoint because the army thinks he is psychologically unstable. When he accidentally shoots a Palestinian boy, Tzach is discharged from the military altogether. Danker, better known for his good looks than his acting ability, based on his performances in Israeli soap operas, does a convincing job of portraying the quickly unraveling paratrooper.
While his estranged son goes to pieces in Israel, in New York, Moshe enjoys a measure of success as a performing poet. After initially being cajoled on stage when the booked band fails to show up – with the promise of free booze – Moshe begins to feel comfortable reading his passionately cynical, angst-filled poems (in both English and Hebrew) before increasingly appreciative audiences. Aside from a small following from the local Israeli community, Moshe succeeds in catching the attention of the tough-skinned, ex-marine bartender (played by Karen Young), who eventually falls for him, seeing the soft, sweet heart under the prickly exterior.
To this sufficiently complicated plot, Kollek adds side stories and references, to a degree that the story becomes overloaded and too clogged to be satisfactorily resolved when the father and son inevitably meet at the end of the film.
The real substance of the movie ends up being about the main character's love/hate relationship with Israel, the country he turned his back on, full of loathing and disillusionment 20 years earlier, but of which he has never been able to let go. Despite his wishes to escape what he calls "the 51st state, the state of disappointment, violence and stupidity," Moshe lives his life in New York surrounded by Israelis, conducting most of his dealings in Hebrew.
The Israeli focus of the movie may move some viewers, but for those who aren't impassioned by the country and its internal issues, the father-son relationship drama won't be enough to carry the film.
Restless opens in Vancouver Dec. 5.