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Janem, Janem

Helmer Haim Bouzaglo sends a disaffected hero to dwell with the new Israeli underclass of Russian, Romanian and Turkish laborers, in "Janem, Janem." Outlook beyond the fest circuit appears chancy.

With:
With: Danny Rytenberg, Avital Dicker, Dor Zweigenbom, Galina Auzerner, Reymond Amsallem, Amos Lavie. (Hebrew, English, Russian, Turkish, Romanian dialogue.)

In a near-remake of his 1988 “Fictitious Marriage,” in which a middle-class man leaves his wife and hides out incognito as a mute among Palestinian workers, helmer Haim Bouzaglo sends a disaffected hero to dwell with the new Israeli underclass of Russian, Romanian and Turkish laborers, in “Janem, Janem.” Taking place in a sleazy section of Tel Aviv, the pic immerses itself in weirdly ambivalent and highly questionable sexual subplots that contrast “civilized” Israeli coolness to the supposedly more primitive sexuality of the uneducated workers. Outlook beyond the fest circuit appears chancy.

Traumatized by the death of his best friend on an army reserve mission, history teacher Eldi (Danny Rytenberg), in full midlife crisis, heeds the advice of his psychiatrist wife (Avital Dicker) and takes off for foreign climes. But instead of flying to Paris, he ducks back into the airport and joins an arriving bunch of Romanian and Turkish construction workers.

Soon happily ensconced among the immigrants, whose zest for life is only matched by their sense of solidarity, Eldi finds everything that was previously missing from his bourgeois existence. His new companions include Yelena (Galina Auzerner), the Chekhov reading Russian receptionist at his shoddy hotel, who herself is a refuge from middle class respectability, having escaped her mail order marriage.

Meanwhile, Eldi’s disappearance is discovered, and his wife becomes involved in a platonic relationship with a divorced policeman (Dor Zweigenbom) and his young daughter. The comically awkward, repressed exchanges between the three serve to counterpoint the comparative raunchiness of the foreign workers.

But, despite the camaraderie and mutual concern that characterize the well-cast, immensely likable laborers, the benevolent smile that a privileged Eldi casts upon these simpler, happy creatures smacks of condescension.

Tech credits are adequate, Yoram Millo’s video lensing creating clear contrasts between the cool interiors of Eldi’s upscale home and the earthiness of the crowded, seedy foreign quarter.

Title is the Turkish name of a song sung by a homesick immigrant.

Janem, Janem

Israel

Production: A Haim Bouzaglo/Mazel production in association with the Centre Nationale de la Cinematographie. Produced by Haim Bouzaglo, Yoram Millo, Amir Gedalia. Co-producer, Nelly Kafsy. Directed, written by Haim Bouzaglo.

Crew: Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Yoram Millo; editor, Michael Cohen; music, Shushan, Stephane Zidi; production designer, Arie Weiss; sound, Tully Chen. Reviewed at Israeli Film Festival, New York, Feb. 28, 2006. Running time: 104 MIN.

With: With: Danny Rytenberg, Avital Dicker, Dor Zweigenbom, Galina Auzerner, Reymond Amsallem, Amos Lavie. (Hebrew, English, Russian, Turkish, Romanian dialogue.)

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