Depressing subject matter and deliberately drab look are likely to limit audiences.

In the social-problems drama “Bena,” a Tel Aviv father tries to keep his schizophrenic teen son out of an institution, but the fragile balance of their life together is upset when they take in the female Thai worker whose name gives the film its title. Depressing subject matter and deliberately drab look are likely to limit audiences for Israeli writer-helmer Niv Klainer’s feature debut.

An on-call caseworker dispatched to transport psychiatric patients to the hospital, Amos (Shmuel Vilozni) knows with what life is like on the wards. Meanwhile, his son, Yurik (Michael Moshonov), leads a lonely existence in their dreary apartment, his loud music sparking complaints from neighbors. After Amos hauls away an affluent nutter, the man’s housekeeper, Bena (Rachel Santillan, too passive), needs a place to stay. Attracted to her fragile beauty, Amos hopes she can help with Yurik, but her presence stirs primal hormonal urges in the troubled adolescent. Script privileges the plight of the mentally ill and their caretakers over that of Israel’s migrant workers. Mostly unfolding at night, or in cramped interiors, the production design emphasizes the world of the marginalized. HD blowup looks grainy.

Bena

Israel

Production

A Transfax production with the support of Israel Film Fund, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, the Israel Film Council, the Israel Fund for Film Prod., Binger Labs. (International sales: Transfax, Tel Aviv.) Produced by Marek Rozenbaum, Elie Meirowitz, Itai Tamir. Directed, written by Niv Klainer.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Itai Marom; editor, Assaf Korman, Jamal Khlaileh; production designer, Li Levy; costume designer, Ori Giladi. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (City to City), Sept. 17, 2009. Hebrew, English, Thai dialogue. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Shmuel Vilozni, Michael Moshonov, Rachel Santillan.

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