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Things

Caosar Assi Dayan Goldman Amos Gitai Israel Amos Schub Stephana Lea Keonig Elizara Michal Zoharets Tirza Sharon Hacohen Dita Maya Kadishman Ruchama Riki Gal Elah Galia Spring Nelo Menahem Golan Erwin Azaria Rappaport

Caosar Assi Dayan Goldman Amos Gitai Israel Amos Schub Stephana Lea Keonig Elizara Michal Zoharets Tirza Sharon Hacohen Dita Maya Kadishman Ruchama Riki Gal Elah Galia Spring Nelo Menahem Golan Erwin Azaria Rappaport

The formidable challenge of bringing Yaakov Shabtai’s well-regarded novel “Past Continuous” to the screen has not entirely succeded in Amos Gitai’s most ambitious film to date, but “Things” is an interesting failure. As a depiction of three Tel Aviv men and the world in which they live during the period of a few months, Gitai has come up with a densely structured, intriguingly developed film, but audiences may find it difficult to connect with these mournful characters and their concerns. Outside Israel, only limited arthouse prospects loom, with residuals also on the soft side.

Shabtai’s novel was told entirely from the perspective of its narrator and was packed with characters whose lives and memories were explored in the dense text. Gitai has sensibly gone for a straightforward, linear approach, cross-cutting between his three principal protagonists; but viewers unfamiliar with the book may have difficulty sorting out the relationships between the various characters.

Film begins with Caesar (Assi Dayan), who has recently separated from his wife, whom he still loves, and his young son, and who has moved into a grungy studio apartment he shares with Israel (Amos Schub), a lazy musician content to sponge off Caesar. The two hear that the father of their friend Goldman has died, and set off to attend the funeral but can’t find the correct cemetery. Caesar is involved with two women. One, Elizara, is married but willing to divorce her husband to marry him; he remains indecisive, and she makes a play for Israel. Israel, meanwhile, is unsure of his relationship with a sweet zoology student, Ella, even when she becomes pregnant.

Goldman, played with brooding melancholy by the director himself, becomes increasingly morbid in the months following his father’s demise and spends a great deal of time with his Polish-born mother discussing death and immortality, while becoming steadily more suicidal.

Gitai takes his time establishing the enclosed world of his three heroes, and his other characters, including several vibrant women, fade into the background. Little is made of the fact that Caesar’s son contracts leukemia, or of Israel’s fling with Elizara. Still less is made of the Tel Aviv background.

Handsomely photographed by Renato Berta, the film is in equal parts intriguing and distancing. In the end, there’s a feeling of dissatisfaction and a need to know more about these characters. And yet as the film unfolds, the sometimes irritatingly slow pace and the director’s fondness for extraneous scenes (a long sequence in a bar) are alienating.

Assi Dayan is excellent as the burnt-out, jaded Caesar, and Gitai himself is on the button as the suicidal Goldman. Among a strong supporting cast, there’s a solid appearance by vet director and exec Menahem Golan, who plays a wheelchair-confined rep of an older generation.

Things

(ISRAELI-FRENCH-ITALIAN)

Production: An Agav Films (Tel Aviv)/Agav Films (Paris)/Milkado Films (Rome) co-production. Produced by Shuki Friedman. Associate producers, Laurent Truchot, Roberto Ciecuto. Directed by Amos Gitai. Screenplay, Gitai, Gilad Evron, Madi Levy, based on the novel "Past Continuous" by Yaakov Shabtai,

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Renato Berta; editor, Zohar Sela; music, Uri Ophir; production design, Eytan Levy; costumes, Laura Dinolescu; sound. Yochai Moshe; assistant director, Haim Rinsky; casting, Leva Hon. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Fast Lane), Sept. 3, 1995. Running time: 112 MIN.

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