An uncommon film of great sensitivity, “The Dune” delivers a beautifully understated portrayal of the consequences of choosing a particular path at life’s crossroads. First-time feature helmer Yossi Aviram proves exceptionally gifted with his stellar cast, whose nuanced performances find gold in the spare script about an older gay police officer in France whose long-estranged son in Israel comes to make a connection. Perceptively commenting on the passage of time, the film is the kind of sleeper that appears out of nowhere yet makes an impact; it won best debut at the Haifa Film Festival and could see limited arthouse play.
Although gay-themed, with a rare portrayal of an older same-sex couple at its heart, there’s no reason why the pic need be relegated to the queer circuit, although such showcases will likely boost its profile. Equally key to the film’s appeal, especially for mature audiences, is the way it refuses to marginalize people 60 and older, giving them the kind of rich inner lives usually denied characters of a certain age.
Fortysomething Hanoch (Lior Ashkenazi) owns a bike repair shop in a desert town in Israel, filling his time playing chess with friend Fogel (Moni Moshonov). When wife Yael (Dana Adini, making an impression in a small role) discovers she’s pregnant, Hanoch tells her he’s not prepared to be a father, and she walks out.
In France, missing-persons investigator Ruben (Niels Arestrup) tracks down famed author Moreau (Mathieu Amalric), who disappeared three weeks earlier. The writer’s been holed up in a hotel, wanting to keep the world at bay; he and Ruben, an admirer, exchange respectful words in a terrific scene, but when the detective steps out to let Moreau get his things, the author jumps out the window.
Back in Paris, Ruben feels it’s time to retire. Moreau’s death has shaken him up, he’s depressed, and he and life partner Paolo (Guy Marchand) need to move apartments. Even Ruben’s dog, his constant companion, is showing his age.
Meanwhile, Hanoch appears in France, discreetly trailing Ruben and then heading to the coast in the southwest Landes region. There one morning, he’s found on the beach by Fabienne (Emma de Caunes), mute and without ID; the only item in his pocket is an article about Moreau’s suicide. Hanoch is taken to the hospital and Ruben is called to down to investigate, but the silent man’s mystery is difficult to crack.
Aviram keeps dialogue to a minimum, not in a perverse way, but because he’s aware that physicality and mood convey a richness, especially with this cast, more natural and profound than could be delivered in conversation. Exposition is more or less eliminated, and the connection between the Israeli and French stories isn’t immediately clear, but this is elliptical filmmaking at its best, and every character exudes a complex interiority as well as likability.
Central to “The Dune” is the solidity of Ruben and Paolo’s relationship; though they are very different personalities, and not without their occasional disagreements, the unquestioned, quietly demonstrable depth of their partnership provides Ruben with the solidity he needs to get through this difficult time. The pic is dedicated to Pierluigi and Reuven, the subjects of Aviram’s docu “Paris Returns,” and more than likely the inspiration for the helmer’s fiction debut.
Cast against type, Arestrup makes a depressed, tired old man into a noble and tormented figure, comfortable in himself and his love, yet haunted by a past he couldn’t control. Always a canny performer, he captures the meaning between the words, giving this cultured, empathic man an accessible majesty. More than half of Ashkenazi’s role is played sans dialogue, yet the thesp’s silent gaze calmly expresses the sadness and yearning that Hanoch is only just now confusedly addressing. Marchand, at times exasperated yet unswervingly devoted, and de Caunes, independent and hesitantly optimistic, are equally fine.
This is a standout year for d.p. Antoine Heberle, who follows sterling work in “Grigris” with the quiet elegance his lensing displays here. Whether via sun-filled exteriors or the more controlled lighting effects inside, his visuals provide a clear, simplified richness, as respectful of all the characters as Aviram’s superb screenplay.