You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Wonders’

Avi Nesher's unusual dramedy offers a stylish and amusing riff on 'Chinatown' by way of 'Alice in Wonderland.'


Adir Miller, Ori Hizkiah, Yehuda Levi, Yuval Scharf, Efrat Gosh.

A genial slacker, a private investigator and a femme fatale join forces to rescue a kidnapped holy man in Avi Nesher’s engagingly helmed “The Wonders,” an unusual dramedy that offers a stylish and amusing riff on  “Chinatown” by way of “Alice In Wonderland.” But on another level, it provides ripped-from-the-headlines commentary on the messianic cults that misuse the millions of shekels finagled from their followers, as well as the appeal of religion as a panacea for lost souls searching for something to believe in. Fests and Jewish-interest events should take note of this Israeli B.O. hit.

Starting as an urban noir, the character-driven plot initially seems as convoluted as “The Big Sleep.” It pivots on the missing Rabbi Knafo (Yehuda Levi), whose followers believe he’s a modern-day prophet with a direct line to God that allows him to foresee the future. Knafo suddenly turns up in an abandoned Jerusalem apartment, the captive of some sinister ultra-Orthodox thugs; although the rabbi is clearly in a repentant mode, his captors beat and starve him while trying to extract a written confession with which they plan to blackmail him.

Meanwhile, menacing private detective Jacob Gittes (Adir Miller, a standup comic who scored dramatically as the star of Nesher’s “The Matchmaker”) monitors Knafo’s plight. Gittes is working on behalf of Knafo’s sister-in-law, Ella Gorsky (Yuval Scharf, “Ana Arabia”), a gorgeous redhead with some secrets of her own. When Gittes requests the assistance of laid-back graffiti artist Arnav (lanky, mop-haired comic Ori Hizkiah, making an appealing film debut) who lives in a messy flat across from where Knafo is being held, complications and misunderstandings ensue as loyalties shift and revelations surface.

Vet helmer Nesher makes nifty use of his Jerusalem setting, especially the distinctive Musrara neighborhood, where ultra-Orthodox Jews, Arabs and counterculture bohemians live side-by-side. He also draws significant humor from the abrasive relationship between bitter workaholic Gittes, a man of many disguises, and cheerful, sociable man-child Arnav, who takes pleasure from his mundane existence bartending, painting his signature rabbit graffiti, and inhaling confidence and relaxation courtesy of the local pot dealer.

The screenplay by Nesher and Shaanan Streett, frontman of the hip-hop/funk band Hadag Nahash (which provides the pic’s original songs), mixes genres with the lightest of touches. In an inspired move, Arnav’s overactive imagination is depicted with classic hand-drawn animation presenting Jerusalem as a mysterious Wonderland.

On the thesping front, Miller and Hizkiah play off of each other beautifully, delivering their smart dialogue with expert comic timing. Seductive Scharf gets into the spirit of her character while chanteuse Efrat Gosh provides an offbeat presence as Arnav’s ex-girlfriend, who is having a religious crisis of her own.

As befits a noir, night scenes dominate, suffused with a warm, golden glow by lenser Michel Abramowicz. The cramped, nicely detailed interiors stand in marked contrast to the openness of the Musrara streets and the isolated desert location of the Tomb of Amos, where some climactic action takes place. The stirring score by Avner Dorman and sophisticated sound work by Alex Claude and David Lis smoothly signal the film’s shifts in genre.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Wonders'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 9, 2013. Running time: 120 MIN. Original title: "Plaot"


(Israel) A United King Films (in Israel)/Israeli Films (in U.S.) release of a United King Films, Metro Communications, Artomas Communications, Emek Plaot Limited Partnership production with the support of the Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts — Cinema Project, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, Israel Lottery Council for Culture and Arts, Channel 10, 58 Century Entertainment, Galaxy Studios. (International sales: Eastgate Pictures, New York.) Produced by David Silber, Moshe Edery, Avi Nesher, Leon Edery.


Directed by Avi Nesher. Screenplay, Nesher, Shaanan Streett. Camera (color, HD), Michel Abramowicz; editor, Isaac Sehayek; music, Avner Dorman; songs, Hadag Nahash; production designer, Ido Dolev; costume designer, Li Alembik; animation and character design, Avi Blyer; sound (Dolby Digital), Alex Claude, David Lis.


Adir Miller, Ori Hizkiah, Yehuda Levi, Yuval Scharf, Efrat Gosh.

More Film

  • Brad Pitt Leonardo DiCaprio Once Upon

    China Halts Release of Quentin Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

    Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has had its upcoming China theatrical release put on hold. It was set to hit theaters in the Middle Kingdom on Oct. 25. It had received previously received its release approval from Chinese censors. But an exhibitor source told Variety that the movie has been “temporarily put [...]

  • Some Beasts

    San Sebastian New Directors Winner Jorge Riquelme on ‘Some Beasts,’ Screening at MIA

    Jorge Riquelme Serrano’s sophomore feature “Some Beasts” has impressed since sweeping Toulouse’s 35th Films in Progress in March and premiering its final version in San Sebastian’s New Directors section where it once again notched top honors. Riqeulme writes, produces – with his company Laberinto Films – directs and edits his films, so its no surprise [...]

  • Hide-and-Seek

    ZDF Enterprises Unveils New International Slate in Rome

    ROME – ZDF Enterprises is continuing its push into high-end international drama series by tapping into new territories, introducing two new projects at the MIA market on Thursday that were produced in Ukraine and the Netherlands. “Hide and Seek” (pictured), an 8 x 50’ crime noir series produced by Ukraine’s FILM.UA, and “Echoes,” a 10 x [...]

  • Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS:

    Disney and Tencent to Put Out New Chinese ‘Star Wars’ Story

    Disney and China’s biggest online publisher, Tencent’s China Literature, have teamed up to develop a new Chinese “Star Wars” online novel and release 40 older e-books in Chinese for the first time. In an attempt to cultivate grass-roots enthusiasm for a franchise that has not yet managed to find a strong foothold in the world’s [...]

  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

    Film Review: 'A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon'

    No asteroids are hurtling toward Earth in “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” though a flying frozen pizza does softly slice the top off an elderly shopper’s hairdo: That’s roughly the level of quirky peril we’re talking about in the latest outing from Aardman Animations, and as usual, the British stop-motion masters cheerfully prove that [...]

  • Slam

    Film Review: ‘Slam’

    The disappearance of a fearless female Palestinian-Australian slam poet triggers suspense and powerful social and political commentary in “Slam,” an outstanding slow-burn thriller by expat Indian filmmaker Partho Sen-Gupta (“Sunrise”). Starring Palestinian actor Adam Bakri (“Omar,” “Official Secrets”) as the missing woman’s conflicted brother, and leading Aussie performer Rachael Blake as a troubled cop, Opening [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content