A daughter's affection for her father prevents her from pursuing an adult life in this melancholy family drama.

A daughter’s deep affection for her troubled father prevents her from pursuing a separate adult life in the melancholy family drama “There Were Nights,” from helmer-scribe Ron Ninio. The casting of real-life father and daughter Moshe and Dana Ivgi — essentially Israeli thesping royalty — should boost the pic’s domestic theatrical prospects before broadcast. Offshore, this universally accessible albeit old-fashioned tale about the limits of love and its inability to heal all wounds should make the rounds at fests and Jewish events before segueing to ancillary.

There Were Nights

Shifting between 1966 and 1994, the story unfolds from the perspective of Goni (played as a youngster by the adorably precocious Maya Cohen, and by Dana Ivgi as a young woman), the only child of talented theater director Yitzhak Ben Samuel (Moshe Ivgi) and his devoted Russian wife, Ora (Jenya Dodina). At the age of 7, Goni sees her world start to fall apart when her beloved father is arrested and imprisoned for financial mismanagement and her mother falls ill.

Yitzhak never recovers from his shame and the death of his wife. He also feels bitter toward his former colleagues, whose failure to support him during and after his trial prematurely ends his career and damages his health. Goni becomes his emotional crutch through loneliness and loss.

While the young Goni was full of high spirits and utter faith in her father, the adult Goni both understands and resents his weakness and feels guilt every time she attempts to leave home. Out of desperation, she engineers a final comeback attempt for Yitzhak.

Writer-director Ninio, a theater helmer himself as well as the offspring of one, excels at evoking the excitement and camaraderie of life among theater artists. He also convincingly depicts the painful aspects of family ties, from Yitzhak’s nonstop sniping with his mother-in-law to Ora’s brave decline to Goni’s conflicted feelings.

Thesping is aces across the board without veering into cheap sentiment. Cohen and Ivgi shared the actress kudo at the recent Haifa film fest, where the pic debuted.

Although nothing in the solidly pro tech package particularly defines the period setting, Ofer Inov’s unobtrusively intimate widescreen lensing gives the proceedings a theatrical feel. The title comes from a well-known Israeli song, “Hayu leilot,” expressing a sense of longing for a happier past.

There Were Nights

Hebrew, Russian dialogue

Production

A United King Films release of an Abot Barkai, Talisma production with the support of the Israel Film Fund, Yes. (International sales: Abot Barkai Prods., Tel Aviv.) Produced by Jonathan Aroch, Dikla Barkai Moshe, Leon Edery. Directed, written by Ron Ninio.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Ofer Inov; editor, Adi Sarig; music, Shmulik Noifeld; production designer, Rachel Sussman; costume designer, Laura Sheim; sound (Dolby Digital), David Lis, Aviv Aldema; associate producers, Eitan Abot, Ron Ninio. Reviewed on DVD, Chicago, Nov. 8, 2009. (In Haifa Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Dana Ivgi, Moshe Ivgi, Jenya Dodina, Maya Cohen, Gadi Yagil.
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