Adapting to the screen “Black Box,” the epistolary novel by Amos Oz, arguably Israel’s most accomplished living writer, presents a major challenge that is only partially met by director Yeud Levanon. This tale of obsessive love and wrecked marriage, which unfolds against Israel’s complex political setting, should prove intriguing to viewers interested in the new Israeli cinema, but it holds limited commercial allure for other audiences.
Story’s heroine is Ilana (Bruria Albek), a beautiful woman divorced from her first husband, Alex (Ami Traub), for seven years, but still madly in love with him. Though remarried to the understanding Sommo (Mati Seri), with whom she has a young daughter, Ilana’s body, heart and soul yearn for Alex, an internationally famous scholar who lives in London. As a result of their painful divorce, their teenage son has become rebellious and keeps running away in an effort to be independent.
Using Ilana’s voiceover narration, tale is structured as a series of flashbacks interwoven with episodes from the present. Ilana’s recollections of her fervid marriage on a gorgeous Jerusalem estate (now deserted) are contrasted with her contempo routine life with Sommo. For personal and political reasons, both Alex’s manipulative lawyer (Amnon Meskin) and Sommo conspire to keep the lovers apart.
Chief problem is the almost unbridgeable chasm between the book’s subtle complexity of ideas and their onscreen translation. Regrettably, what survives of Oz’s lyrical novel is only the bare bones.
As the internally tortured, obsessively passionate woman, Albek gives a creditable, if not distinguished, performance, though pic calls for a major actress with a wider range of expressive behavior. Of the three men, only Meskin , as the sly lawyer, stands out, using his deep voice to give his lines sharp shadings.
Tech credits, particularly Avi Koren’s precise lensing, are adequate, but readers who got a terrific charge from Oz’s highly romantic book, which was immensely popular both in and outside Israel, will be disappointed by the more realistic and rather flat film version.