Characters struggle to redeem themselves from various crimes and misdemeanors in Israeli drama "Year Zero." Writer-helmer-producer Joseph Pitchhadze elicits fine turns from a sturdy local cast, but unforgiving outcome feels ploddingly didactic, while the slightly sentimental script plays in parts like upmarket but unremarkable TV fodder.

Characters struggle to redeem themselves from various crimes and misdemeanors in baggy but workable Israeli drama “Year Zero.” Writer-helmer-producer Joseph Pitchhadze (“Under Western Eyes”) elicits fine turns from a sturdy local cast, but unforgiving outcome feels ploddingly didactic, while the slightly sentimental script plays in parts like upmarket but unremarkable TV fodder. Still, film’s unabashedly apolitical portrait of contempo life in Israel may rep a point for further fests considering adding “Zero” to their programs.

In classic criss-crosser fashion, opening montage introduces a range of Tel-Aviv-dwelling folk from different backgrounds beginning what seems to be an ordinary day, although by the end of a few weeks, their lives will have intersected with fateful and fatal results.

While visiting his father’s grave, young radio engineer Kagan (Danny Geva) meets Robinson (Ezra Kafri) who was in a punk band with Kagan’s dad back in the ’70s. Robinson has returned to Israel after years abroad, and holds a few secrets that will throw a different light on the oral history of Israeli punk that Kagan is producing for his station.

Also that day, middle-aged estate agent Reuben (Menashe Noy) finds out from his radio producer g.f. Michal (Keren Mor) that she’s pregnant, despite the fact they years ago decided not to have children. After dropping Michal off at the airport that night, a distressed Reuben accidentally runs over the seeing-eye dog of Eddie (Moni Moshonov), a blind masseur. Instead of stopping to help, Reuben drives off. But the guilt leads him to seek out Eddie later and try and make amends.

Before he learns his life lesson, courtesy of too-cutely written Eddie, Reuben evicts young single mother Anna (Sarah Adler) and her son Zuki (Zuki Ringart) when she falls too far behind with the rent. Suddenly unemployed and homeless, Anna turns briefly to prostitution. Her only client seems to be the boss of both Michal and Kagan at the radio station, Shem-Toy (Uri Klauzner), whose comic kink in bed offers a welcome burst of humor. Eventually, Anna starts dating good-hearted arms dealer Matti (Dan Toren), who’s trying to escape his recent past.

Plot abounds with coincidences and overlaps between characters (Michal has a fling with Kagan; one of Eddie’s clients is Robinson; and so on). Suspicion begins to set in that either helmer Pitchhadze doesn’t care if credibility is stretched to the breaking point or that he means to infer a divine intervention shaping characters’ ends. Latter interpretation seems plausible, given that the errant characters meet punitive fates, in Anna’s case a punishment that seems to far outweigh her crimes.

Overall, tech parcel is pro, with color, especially red, used tactically in the production design to create a sense of unity. Editing (by Dov Steuer) maintains pace with skill.

Year Zero

Israel

Production

A Year Zero Partnership production, in association with HOT, Yehoshua Rabinovich Fund for Arts Tel-Aviv, Fund for the Promotion of Israeli Films. (International sales: Cinephil, Tel-Aviv.) Produced by Joseph Pitchhadze, Lior Shefer, Dov Steuer. Directed by Joseph Pitchhadze. Screenplay, Pitchhadze, Dov Steuer.

Crew

Camera (color), Itai Neeman; editor, Steuer; music, Ishai Adar; art director, Miguel Merkin; costume designer, Doron Ashkenazi; sound designer (Dolby), Gil Toren. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Another View), July 7, 2005. Running time: 129 MIN.

With

Menashe Noy, Sarah Adler, Moni Moshonov, Keren Mor, Ezra Kafri, Danny Geva, Dan Toren, Zuki Ringart, Uri Klauzner, Roman Kricheli, James Gonsalves, Uri Klauzner. (Hebrew, English dialogue)

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