An elderly Israeli couple bravely faces the disillusionment that comes with old age in “Epilogue,” the modest but finely crafted debut feature of scribe-helmer Amir Manor. By following the quotidian dealings of the octogenarian duo, superbly embodied by thesps Yosef Carmon and Rivka Gur, the pic compiles a subtle but telling portrait of a now-marginalized generation whose hopes, beliefs and ideas for the country they helped build have, over the years, revealed themselves to be mostly pipe dreams. Jewish fest slots and home play are a given, with wider pickups possibly offering a happy ending.
The film is a structurally compact item, set over the course of a single day. It opens in the morning in the small Tel Aviv apartment of Hayuta (Gur) and her husband, Berl (Carmon), and also ends there, in the evening. The film’s midsection crosscuts between the protags as they each run errands in the city before converging at home (the central stretch suffers a little from the fact the two leads, who have wonderful chemistry, are kept apart).
Early in the morning, via a beautiful crane shot that pans down outside the apartment building’s windows overlooking the main staircase, Berl is seen stopping at his neighbors’ doors on various floors, picking up their newspapers. The gesture hides a terrible truth that’s only gradually revealed: Berl and Hayuta have so little money they can hardly afford Hayuta’s diabetes medicine, an evening meal or the morning papers.
The way modern society occasionally imposes and intrudes on their almost-forgotten lives is made clear by the unannounced visit of a pushy social-security nurse (Hagar Ben Asher), who obliges them to reply to various questions and perform some exercises in front of her, so she can determine whether they’re eligible for state aid. “You’re psychotic,” Berl tells her without a trace of irony, and the disinterested way in which the young state worker interrupts their routine, and tries to reduce them to statistics, works on realistic and metaphorical levels.
Several other sequences are just as niftily constructed, showing some of the couple’s daily dealings, which reflect not only the relationship of the Israeli elderly to the state they helped create — and haven’t had a hand in guiding for a long time — but also serve to contrast the very different generations that came after them (the couple’s only child lives in New York and here only materializes by phone).
Berl was a Labor leader in the 1940s, and still dreams of founding a new charity and cooperation initiative, though his ideals stem from writers whose work he now has a hard time selling even in a second-hand bookshop.
Though Hayuta unaccountably splurges on a movie ticket for “Indiana Jones,” she is the more practical-minded of the two. Indeed, the film’s final showdown, before a wonderfully understated pizza-parlor-set epilogue, starts with her admission that “we’re irrelevant,” which leads to an insightful if blunt nighttime conversation in which the pair come to terms with what’s become of them.
Despite the fact the film is deeply anchored in a distinctive national (if conspicuously non-religious) context, it’s fairly accessible for auds without any specific knowledge of Israeli history or politics. Carmon and Gur are both superb, and never better than when they’re onscreen together, displaying a relaxed intimacy that suggests a closed and symbiotic support system.
Camerawork by Guy Raz is a standout. Frequent medium shots have the characters uncomfortably cramped inside the frame, while the soft lighting, which progresses from faded milky colors to yellowed-paper hues, visually underlines the central idea that advanced age renders people almost invisible.