Mention the name Menahem Golan and an image springs to mind of a venerable 1980s schlockmeister behind long-defunct Cannon Films and countless vehicles for the likes of Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. But even in those halcyon days, there was another side to Golan; he fancied himself the director of “important” movies adapted from “prestige” sources. Unfortunately, these pics usually ended up even kitschier than his straightforward exploitation pics. Golan’s latest, “Return From India,” adapted from a bestselling Israeli novel by A.B. Yehoshua, is no exception. Good for more than its share of unintentional chuckles, this loony, leaden meller that starts as a disease-of-the-week movie and ends up a soft-core May-September romance will find few passengers booking a “Return” voyage.
In a busy Tel-Aviv hospital, administrator, Lazar (Assi Dayan), asks young surgeon Dr. Rubin (Aki Avni) to accompany him and his wife, Dori (Riki Gal), to India to rescue their daughter, who is stricken by hepatitis and is being cared for at a monastery. In a scenario reminiscent of Jane Campion’s “Holy Smoke,” the daughter evidently went to India seeking Buddhist enlightenment. Lazar wants Rubin along to help with the daughter’s medical needs.
Although Golan filmed on location in India, pic’s view of the country is condescending, like that of a Hollywood director from the 1930s recreating India on a soundstage with lots of exotic touches. In Golan’s view of Bombay, all the streets are jammed with peasant children entranced by the lightness of the four Israelis’ skin, and every hospital is backed up with week-long waits to get the results of even a simple blood test. Which is to say nothing of the women-in-mourning who throw themselves on top of burning funeral pyres.
Of course, “Return From India” is really about laying the foundation for a hot-and-heavy affair between Dori and Dr. Rubin (something that is telegraphed from nearly the opening scene). As played by the overly enthusiastic, middle-aged Gal and the inexpressive, square-jawed Avni, their sex scenes are not convincing. But by the inevitable denouement, in which Dori (by this point a widow) tries to break it off with Rubin only for him to find himself uncontrollably infatuated with her, it feels like an episode in a TV soap opera.
Despite some attractive location shooting, pic suffers from a chintzy look and feel, exacerbated by Tova Asher’s blunt, arrhythmic editing.