Blood is thicker than varnish remover, and more caustic, in “Restoration,” a handsome production of intriguing and perhaps incongruous surfaces, given the knotty domestic rancor at the core of its story. Marked by disquietingly beautiful imagery, this drama should find a place among speciality auds and those who want to stay abreast of developments in Israeli cinema — which, as director Joseph Madmony’s film indicates so strongly, seems to be moving away, more and more, from the overtly political/allegorical in favor of the character-driven.
The look of “Restoration” is superb, the pace deliberate, the tone morose — and the story slow in coming. But the characters are well defined and the emotions genuine, and the subtext borders on the otherworldly.
Max Malamud, a bit like Jacob Marley, is dead. And when he’s found on his couch, having expired in the middle of sex with a now-absent prostitute, it throws his working partner, Yaakov Fidelman (Sasso Gabay), for a loop. Equipped with neither social skills nor business acumen, Fidelman handled the craft side of their antique furniture business, while Malamud provided the public face and, presumably, financial talents. But the business is in trouble, it turns out, and Fidelman, who seems depressive anyway, has to figure a way out.
What he increasingly seems to fear (and Gabay’s performance is a quietly eloquent portrayal of unspoken unease) is that he’s never been a whole person, Malamud having provided the missing parts of his character and taken them with him when he left.
No one around Fidelman, certainly not his son Noah (Nevo Kimchi), does much to allay his fears. At Malamud’s funeral, Noah reads kaddish, the deceased having no heirs. But as becomes increasingly clear, the unpleasant Noah was looked on as a son by Malamud, who, intentionally or not, usurped Fidelman’s patriarchy along with everything else. As Noah tries to sell the shop out from under his father, the young man’s position, too, is invaded — by Anton (Henry David), who becomes a surrogate son to Fidelman in the restoration business, while falling unwisely in love with Noah’s wife, Hava (Sarah Adler), who is about eight months pregnant.
The screenplay, by Erez Kav-El, is ambitious, quasi-Shakespearean and just barely resists a Rod Serling-style venture into the supernatural; Malamud doesn’t reappear, but he certainly haunts the proceedings, as do the missing aspects of Fidelman’s character. Anchoring all the unspoken and/or suggested elements of the story is its 500-pound metaphor — an 1882 Steinway piano that Anton, who happens to play, and play well, discovers under the dust of Fidelman’s shop. Selling the piano could offset Fidelman’s financial woes, but it needs a new sound board to achieve its potential worth — in other words, all the refinishing in the world won’t restore its value, if its metaphoric heart isn’t made whole again. This is far more subtle onscreen than in the retelling, but those who appreciate a film in which things are expertly made or done will find one in “Restoration.”
Gabay gives a terrific performance in helmer Madmony’s unorthodox movie, the p.o.v. of which centers on its least pleasant character. A far more attractive antidote to Fidelman is Adler, whose Hava is neither the stereotypical bedraggled wife nor the odd plaything for Anton, but a significant character in her own right.
Production values are first-rate, notably the work of d.p. Boaz Yehonatan Yacov. Original Hebrew title translates as “Good Morning Mr. Fidelman.”