A classic case of being in the wrong place at the right time, “Blues by the Beach” begins in a laid-back, R&B-and-beer-soaked watering hole in Tel Aviv that ends up being a crucible of Mideast terrorism. Despite its dramatic twists and TV friendly running time, however, the film will have trouble defining an audience, given that it has such difficulty in defining itself. Currently on the fest circuit, pic could open distribution doors with a re-edit to sharpen focus.
Helmer Joshua Faudem was hired by producer Jack Baxter to helm a soft-edged portrait of an Anglo-oriented blues bar called Mike’s Place, a bastion of peace, music and one-worldism in urban Israel. Suddenly, however, he has a different movie on his hands when a suicide bomber detonates himself in the doorway of the pub. People viewers had become intimate with — and who were friends of the filmmakers — are suddenly dead, and the music has shut down.
Faudem, a U.S.-born Israeli, and his then-girlfriend and co-director, Prague native Pavla Fleischer, do several dubious things. One is to embellish the bombing scene with a carload of fancy edits, trying to impose chaos on a scene that’s chaotic enough. Another is to shoot several of the bar patrons, post-bombing, from the hip, which implies the subjects were unaware that their grief was being captured, and preserved.
Third problem is the imposition of a story of failed love: Fleischer is shown admitting, first, that she has lost her feelings for Faudem because of what she perceives as his overly emotional reaction to the bombing (which does nothing but win him sympathy from the viewer), and then admits that she’s slept with someone else. This juxtaposition of a relatively banal love story and global politics is symptomatic of the film’s confusion and inaccessibility: Surely, a suicide bombing can have ramifications that extend far beyond the bomb site, but there are ways to say this without putting a problematic romance front and center.
The kind of sudden, spontaneous violence that is visited upon Mike’s Place cannot be dealt with, rationally, in its immediate aftermath. But it can in the editing room: “Evil walked into Mike’s Place,” a speaker says during the bar’s combination memorial service and re-opening, but can what is going on between Israel and Palestine be dismissed as pure evil? Or is “Blues by the Beach” obliged to put a few things in context?
There are important connections to be made through this movie — between violence and its causes, between impersonal news reports and the real-life victims whose stories get so casually told. But viewers have to stretch, sometimes painfully, to make them.