Part transcendental love story, part gritty psychological thriller, Israeli writer-helmer Omri Givon's impressive feature debut, "Seven Minutes in Heaven," handles a difficult subject with imagination and emotional veracity.

Part transcendental love story, part gritty psychological thriller, Israeli writer-helmer Omri Givon’s impressive feature debut, “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” handles a difficult subject with imagination and emotional veracity. Boasting strong perfs, riveting hyper-real cinematography and sensitive editing, the intricately structured narrative follows a young Jerusalem woman, the survivor of a suicide bus bombing, as she struggles to reclaim her memory of that horrific day. Named best feature at the Haifa Film Festival, it’s a natural for further fest action and could suit niche arthouse and broadcast slots.

Cleverly constructed so that auds learn more about the bombing along with protag Galia (Reymond Amsalem) through her investigations, hallucinations and fragmented flashbacks, the pic becomes increasingly tense and involving as it progresses. However, this style of storytelling (indebted to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “The Double Life of Veronique”) requires patience and attentiveness from viewers who won’t immediately be able to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.

Pic’s title is backgrounded when Galia visits Itzik (Benjamin Jagendorf), a first responder at the bombing scene, at his Gates of Heaven seminary and learns she was unconscious for seven minutes and considered clinically dead. He shares a mystical tale about souls that rise up to heaven but are incomplete, telling her, “Our creator gives these souls a chance to observe the life they’ll live if they choose to return.” Although Galia scoffs, Itzik notes that a soul choosing to return might be able to change its destiny at the moment it reunites with the body.

With her extensive burns healing more quickly than her mental trauma, Galia initially resists the soothing attentions of new acquaintance Boaz (Eldad Fribas). But as their relationship deepens and her memory returns, the startling final act puts a poignant metaphysical spin on all that has come before.

Close scrutiny reveals that Givon’s complex script plants clues for the ending twist. Meanwhile, his confident direction keeps the story grounded in the complicated realities of Israeli life.

In her first leading role, unconventionally attractive Amsalem is at her best in a bold, teasing or flirtatious mode, transmitting power and strength. Striking sparks with Amsalem, sexy, sympathetic Fribas makes an impression that by far outlasts than his screen time.

Stellar tech package is led by Nitay Netzer’s vivid, beautifully composed widescreen HD lensing. Among the unforgettable images: Galia’s eyes locking with those of the bomber, and the burned hulk of the destroyed bus.

Seven Minutes in Heaven

Israel-France-Hungary

Production

A Transfax Film Prods. (Israel)/ EZ Films (France)/KMH Films (Hungary) production, with the support of the Israel Film Fund, Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, Israeli Film Council, Israeli Fund for Film Production. (International sales: Transfax, Tel Aviv.) Produced by Marek Rozenbaum, Itai Tamir, Elie Meirovitz, Michael Rozenbaum, Ferenc Pusztai. Directed, written by Omri Givon.

Crew

Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Nitay Netzer; editor, Rotem Shamir; music, Adrien Blaise; production designer, Li Levi; costume designers, Miki Steinberg, Anat Dhari, Moran Agaki; sound (Dolby Digital), Oleg Kaiserman. Reviewed on DVD, Chicago, Nov. 25, 2008. (In Haifa Film Festival.) Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Reymond Amsalem, Eldad Fribas, Nadav Nates, Benjamin Jagendorf.

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