Balanced on a fulcrum between drama and comedy, director/co-writer Maya Kenig’s “Off-White Lies” follows the inevitably rocky relationship of an unemployed man and his teen daughter visiting him in Israel. Her arrival coincides with bombing attacks by Hezbollah, lending political and ironic dimensions: Dad’s idea for them to pose as refugees is only one of several titular lies. Pic reps a solid inclusion in Berlin’s Generation section after a fine fest run in Jerusalem, Busan and Palm Springs, and will score a host of buyers.
Shaul (Gur Bentwich) picks up daughter Libi (Elya Inbar) at the airport, not having seen her for some time. He reveals that he’s technically without a home at the moment, and even the car he’s driving belongs to lady friend Orly (Sigal Arad Inbar). En route, a bombing occurs, sending them into the nearest shelter, where Shaul notices that Libi is asthmatic.
The script by Kenig and Dana Dimant needlessly holds back certain key bits of information — such as where Libi lives, or the arrangements for her stay — making it hard for audiences to grasp the parameters of this father-daughter relationship, which ultra-mellow Shaul tends to treat more like a friendship. Forever hatching ideas for inventions that never amount to anything, Shaul is a tinkerer as well as an operator: Inspired by a TV report on refugees being hosted by families, he plots for he and Libi to pose as refugees in order to get free housing.
In a too-easy development, well-off Gidi (Tzahi Grad) and his slightly suspicious wife, Halit (Salit Achi-Miriam), open their Jerusalem-area home to Shaul and Libi, sending the film in a new direction that maintains a slightly bemused tone but never sets off outright comic fireworks. (The goofiest it ever gets is Shaul showing Halit one of his inventions, a realistic-looking plastic turd designed to conceal house keys outside the front door.) Tensions arise over how long Shaul — and perhaps more crucially, Libi — can keep up pretenses, especially when Shaul starts testing the limits of Gidi’s open marriage.
The final stages of “Off-White Lies” suffer from an excess of story turns and reversals, transforming what began as a modestly human tale about a dad and his teen finding common ground into something more mechanical. Keeping the film in line, however, are Bentwich’s and Inbar’s well-judged, consistently underplayed performances, which always remain attuned to the characters’ human qualities. Inbar, in particular, impresses as an intelligent if somewhat naive 13-year-old, showing flashes of her Westernization, yet savvy to the daily ways of life in Israel.
Production package is pro but not especially distinguished; the acute location work in northern Israel and Jerusalem is a standout.