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A rational scientist behaves irrationally when he discovers his much younger wife with another man in Eitan Zur’s largely unexceptional helming debut, “Naomi.” The pic’s mother angle is a killer (well, not quite), and the roles are perfectly cast, but otherwise there’s not much to distinguish this mildly enjoyable noir from scores of similar murder dramas. Some nice psychological elements and a good final twist maintain interest, yet it’s unlikely “Naomi” will see much biz away from home and Israel-focused fests, which will delight to have a drama that doesn’t reflect current events.

Popular science prof Ilan Ben-Natan (Yossi Pollak) is 60 and married to 28-year-old book illustrator Naomi (Melanie Peres). A lecture to his students on old and young stellar bodies is a little obvious, since the hefty Ilan is clearly aware of the discrepancies in age and weight between him and his attractive wife.

Several clues lead him to suspect Naomi is unfaithful, so he follows her car and discovers her in the arms of artist Oded (Rami Heuberger). Distressed, he confides in his mother Kathy (Orna Porat), a no-nonsense German refugee who advises him to weather the storm and stop smothering her. When Naomi says she’s staying the night in Tel Aviv, Ilan drives to Oded’s place expecting to surprise the two of them; instead, he finds only the maddeningly confident artist, who enjoys watching Ilan’s helplessness.

In a rage stemming equally from his sense of inadequacy and the fear of losing his beloved wife, Ilan kills Oded and drives to Mom’s place with the body in the trunk. Unflustered by any moral concerns, Kathy cool-headedly thinks of how to dispose of the body. Naomi can’t figure out what’s happened to her lover, so she approaches Ilan’s best friend Anton (Suheil Haddad), a police detective, for help.

The pic’s Hebrew title, taken from Edna Mazya’s eponymous novel, translates as “An X-Ray Burst,” which conveys a sense of below-the-surface analysis that’s only partly on display. “Naomi” keeps the focus front and center on Ilan: He doesn’t really know his wife any better than the audience, and the script errs in not granting Naomi a more complete character, especially in its failure to consider what she gets out of her marriage — or what initially got her into it. Revelations about Kathy’s past as a deficient mother partly explain Ilan’s lack of self-confidence around women; likewise, Kathy’s backbone provides the necessary lift to set “Naomi” apart from similar murderous exercises.

Pollak’s large physicality works in nice contrast to his mild-mannered scientist role, believably bridging the gap between gentle academic and spontaneous murderer. In general he’s a character who reacts to events rather than drives them, and the thesp’s controlled presence does much to make palpable the fear of loss and sense of betrayal. Stage luminary Porat avoids all cliches, and though she gets little screentime, her force suffuses the entire film.

Helmer Zur made a name for himself on the smallscreen, most recently directing some episodes of the original Israeli version of “In Treatment.” Here he collaborates with lenser Shai Goldman (“The Band’s Visit”), offering a still, observational vision that never distracts from the storyline.

Naomi

Israel-France

  • Production: A July August Prods., EZ Films production. (International sales: Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Eilon Ratzkovsky, Elie Meirovitz, Yossi Uzrad, Guy Jacoel, Yochanan Kredo. Directed by Eitan Zur. Screenplay, Edna Mazya, based on her novel.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, HD-to-35mm), Shai Goldman; editor, Boaz Leon; music, Adrien Blaise; production designer, Eytan Levy; costume designer, Yael Shenberger; sound (Dolby), Sam Cohen, Gil Toren; assistant director, Michal Bengad; casting, Orit Azoulay. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), Sept. 3, 2010. Running time: 103 MIN.
  • With: With: Yossi Pollak, Melanie Peres, Orna Porat, Suheil Haddad, Rami Heuberger.
  • Music By: