Winner of eight Israeli Academy Awards, “Lovesick on Nana Street” is a mildly amusing serio-comedy about a romantic guy who can’t distinguish fantasy from reality. Israel’s official submission for the best foreign-language picture Oscar is a smash hit domestically, and its apolitical nature may hold some limited appeal in foreign markets.
Pic is characterized more by what it is not than by what it is. Unlike most Israeli films, which deal with relevant sociopolitical problems (the perpetual state of war, interracial relations), this one goes out of its way to entertain audiences with a universal genre that’s directly linked to the Hollywood (and European) tradition of serio-comedies about the mentally retarded. Writer-director Savi Gabizon borrows the format — and premise — of such films by structuring his tale around Victor (Moshi Ivgi), an average-looking guy who’s borderline retarded but has plenty of humanity and compassion to spare.
What gives this familiar story its indigenous flavor is the setting — a poor , working-class neighborhood in Israel. Operating a pirate cable TV station out of his home, in which he lives with his mom and grandma, Victor is sort of the “village idiot,” hopeless romantic who spends his time daydreaming about women.
Constantly on the streets, Victor one day spots Michaella (Avigail Arieli), a beautiful actress who has moved into the vicinity with her lover, Gadi (Menasheh Noy). As soon as he lays eyes on her, Victor becomes intoxicated, launching a most bizarre, one-sided courtship. Soon, however, his idiosyncratic courtship turns into an obsession, and when Victor begins stalking the couple, they have no choice but to call the police. Story then switches to a mental ward, where Victor falls for Levana (Hana Azulay-Hasfari), a woman who pretends to be a rabbi and married with children.
Neophyte helmer Gabizon works hard to give his picture a light touch, but for the most part his treatment is on the heavy and blatant side. He’s also unable to provide smooth transitions in tone, from the comic segments to the tragic ones; as a result, film is overly sappy in its last reel. Not surprisingly, “Lovesick” suffers from the same soft, sentimental approach that characterizes all movies trying to “humanize” the mentally ill.
Pic plays it safe by never clearly stating how sick Victor is. The scenes at the hospital are played for laughs: Director even pays tribute to the Marx Brothers'”A Night at the Opera,” when patients of opposite sex squeeze themselves into a tiny shower.
Nonetheless, what elevates the film above the routine is a charming performance by indefatigable comedian Ivgi, who’s in every scene. Always credible and often touching, Ivgi belongs in the same league as Johnny Depp or Roberto Benigni, two distinguished thesps who have played similar roles. Tech credits are modest on what appears to be a small-budget effort.