Gentle Israeli coming-of-age story suffused with nostalgia for the simpler times of childhood and the comparatively faraway war in Lebanon, “Summer Story” could almost have been named “The Summer of ’82,” recalling Robert Mulligan’s bittersweet WWII homefront romance. TV-helmer Shmuel Haimovitch’s charming, delicately sketched film has traveled extensively on the international fest circuit but may be too slight to ever qualify as theatrical fare. Pic, though, could shine brightly in family slots on cable.
Thirteen-year-old Gal (Kosta Kaplan) has a summer job as a postman that takes him all over the kibbutz. He and his pal, the diminutive Boaz (Itamar Cohen), hunt rabbits with bow and arrow and help a downed crop duster pilot get aloft again. Boaz yearns to run away and join his older brother fighting in Lebanon.
Gal also occasionally hangs out with Ronit (Eden Katz), reluctantly agreeing to be her boyfriend. But it is the beautiful, reclusive 19-year-old Chaya (Aya Koren), first encountered on his postal route, who captures Gal’s romantic fancy. Fragile, with a serious heart condition, Chaya wiles the time away writing letters to soldiers, her correspondence with one pen-pal in particular making her eagerly look forward to Gal’s daily rounds. She impatiently awaits a photo of her most-favored Moishe, but the photo never arrives.
When Chaya is scheduled for open-heart surgery, Gal, who tore up Moishe’s photo in a fit of prepubescent jealousy, packs up his camera and journeys to the Lebanese border to snap another one.
Never dramatically forced or cloyingly sentimental, Haimovitch’s pared-down, simple tale relies on the quality of light and the shifting play of emotion on the faces of his gifted child actors to evoke a long-ago season. Shai Goldman’s muted lensing softens the often harsh Israeli sunlight while retaining a raw immediacy at one with the natural landscapes. Other tech credits are fine, though Yonathan Bar-Giora’s music sometimes flirts with treacle.