Foul Gesture

Corruption and helplessness swirl around "Foul Gesture," though the particular machismo of the Israeli man is really at the heart of this tightly wound revenge drama. Enveloped in uneasiness, pic relates the increasingly dangerous acts of an average guy at the end of his rope, thanks to a short-tempered gangster with connections.

With:
With: Gal Zaid, Keren Mor, Asher Tsarfati, Ya'acov Ayaly, Ania Bukshtein, Tal Grushka, Rivka Michaeli.

Corruption and helplessness swirl around “Foul Gesture,” though the particular machismo of the Israeli man is really at the heart of this tightly wound revenge drama. Enveloped in uneasiness, pic relates the increasingly dangerous acts of an average guy at the end of his rope, thanks to a short-tempered gangster with connections. Helmer Tzahi Grad toys with expected behavior, though he doesn’t appear to know whether to criticize or celebrate his protag’s newfound recklessness. Winner of best film at the Haifa Festival, this low-budgeter didn’t do much home biz, though fests might give it a spin.

Story is divided into chapters arranged sequentially by day, beginning with the morning of Holocaust Memorial Day, when Michael Klienhouse (Gal Zaid) awakens to what proves to be a truly lousy 24 hours. The morning was already going downhill when wife Tamar (Keren Mor) flips a finger at an impatient driver, who replies by smashing into her door and nearly killing her.

Michael isn’t a take-charge kind of guy, and despite his wife’s urging to follow the bastard, he just notes the license plate number. The next day at the police station he tries to file a complaint, but the cops aren’t interested until they learn who the driver of the offending car is: Danny Ben Moshe, aka Dreyfus (Asher Tsarfati), a gangster with connections in high places. The cops advise Michael to drop it, but he bristles at letting a guy off just because of who he knows, and with the help of shady estranged cousin Hashmonai (Ya’acov Ayaly), he heads to Dreyfus’ bar/brothel hangout.

All this is already uncharacteristic for Michael, a guy his wife calls a “rationalist” who is clearly depressed and incapable of expressing himself.

Unable to see Dreyfus, he takes a metal pipe and scratches his door, but the gangster is inside (with a prostitute), and he’s not pleased. When goons arrive at Michael’s home the next day insisting on a meeting, he starts seeing menace at every turn — there’s an especially good scene in a records office that builds and builds with increasing tension. When he does finally meet with Dreyfus, the results are less than satisfactory, and the level of tit-for-tat violence ratchets up as Michael finds a thrill in his newfound ballsiness, ending in a spectacular but disturbing finale.

Helmer Grad (“Giraffes”) expertly sets this all within the particular, almost artificial rituals of Israeli life, where many of the days in this period (Holocaust Remembrance, Fallen Soldiers, Independence Day) are punctuated by moments of silence. It’s clear the script (written by thesps Zaid and Ayaly) is targeting the various expectations of Israeli bravado, but while not exactly minimizing the danger, it shows no real adverse consequences to Michael’s increasing violence, apart from faster heartbeats. In fact, Tamar gets a kick out of watching her husband finally take control, apparently unaware or unconcerned of the danger he’s put them all in, especially their son.

When the script focuses on the main story, it’s a tight, driven affair, but it throws in unnecessary characters that don’t quite fit: Hashmonai needs to be either reduced or built up more, while the sexual tension between Michael and babysitter Arcadia (Ania Bukshtein) adds a creepy element to his character that goes nowhere. After days of bickering, it’s a surprise to hear Tamar tell her husband he’s everything in the world to her, and her own matter-of-fact handling of the way he puts their lives in jeopardy doesn’t quite add up.

Still, there’s much to recommend here, not least of all the way Grad keeps tension high. He fosters an unsettled air throughout, turning up the discomfort level by jiggling the camera just enough to be noticeable. Tamar’s irregular shifts as a hospital nurse also mean that any sense of regimented time is thrown off, contributing to this sense of imbalance. Digital lensing fosters the gritty feel.

Foul Gesture

Israel

Production: A Tnuah Meguna production. (International sales: Tnuah Meguna, Kfar Sirkin, Israel.) Produced by Isaac Shani, David Cohen, Gal Zaid, Tzahi Grad. Directed by Tzahi Grad. Screenplay, Ya'acov Ayaly, Gal Zaid.

Crew: Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Shai Goldman; editor, Moris Ben Mayor; music, Karni Postel, David Klemes; production designer, Miguel Markin; costume designer, Laura Shaim; sound (Dolby Digital), Gil Toren, Yosi Apelboim; casting, Galit Eshkol. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Zabaltegi), Sept. 22, 2007. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: With: Gal Zaid, Keren Mor, Asher Tsarfati, Ya'acov Ayaly, Ania Bukshtein, Tal Grushka, Rivka Michaeli.

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