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In Hebrew and adapted from the memoir of Israel's leading author, Amos Oz, Natalie Portman's directorial debut is an enchantingly sorrowful love letter to her birthland through the eyes of the young protagonist witnessing his mother and the young nation descending into the abyss of darkness in the first years of independent Israel.
- Portman shines like a candle in the Darkness -
Here at Narrative Muse, we like to highlight what we call "the best of the best." Stuff we'd recommend. Stuff that makes us laugh, cry, and engage. Stuff that's new and solid and innovative, that makes us excited about the potential of storytelling.
So in the interest of full disclosure, I want to say right off the bat that A Tale of Love and Darkness is not the strongest film we've reviewed. I'll explain.
This Hebrew-language movie is based on the memoirs of Amos Oz, who was a child in Jerusalem in the years following WWII, when the United Nations voted to recognize Israel as a state in the Partition Plan for Palestine. His memoirs are long and winding, but largely focus on his romantic mother Fania and her battle with depression in a world full of dashed hopes and unmet expectations. Natalie Portman (Jane Got a Gun) not only stars as Fania, but writes and directs.
It has some notable flaws. The dialogue is unbalanced, a little too weighty and somber to paint an accurate picture of how real families interact. The dreamy film quality has a low-budget feeling to it. Most noticeably, the film suffers from the classic adaptation trap of adhering perhaps too closely to its original source material. It preserves great lines and moments, but often fails to reach the full potential of telling the story in a new medium.
So why feature a film with such noticeable imperfections? Why offer a sneak peak, the specs, and a way to buy it? Well, a few reasons.
It's a passion project eight years in the making, and the debut for veteran actress Natalie Portman as writer and director. Israeli-born Portman fell in love with the Oz's memoirs years ago, but only acquired enough funding to launch a film version after she agreed to star as well as direct. It's easy to see Portman using some common crutches in both her writing and directing, but it's also encouraging to see her insight, spark, and good instincts. She's not afraid to give her audience something to sit with, even if it's slow or uncomfortable, to truly drive home the integrity of the story. She is a sharp, professional woman, and I'm thrilled to see her entering this new realm of storytelling.
A Tale of Love and Darkness also presents a world many of us have never experienced, but still live with every day. The last survivors of "the Greatest Generation" are slowly fading away. Soon, history-changing moments like WWII and the Holocaust will only be retold in books. It's important for people like me, who have only ever known peace in my country, to see what it's like for your neighbor to die from sniper fire. To live in a place where war and racial tensions go back not hundreds of years, but thousands. No movie can portray those things perfectly, but this one has some really striking moments.
Also, the film's performances and themes are truly moving. Through the eyes of young Amos (Amir Tessler), we see heartbreak and hate. He learns to navigate, if not understand, bruised egos and the ache of a bad marriage. Loneliness, abuse, bitterness, self-loathing, and even the darkest depths of depression. Portman is the heart and soul of the film, but Tessler and Gilad Kahana as her husband Arieh provide compelling performances and create a family that feels relatable, even from oceans and decades away.
In the end, I think, I recommend the film not because it's a classic or it's my new favorite movie. But it's worth watching. It's worth sitting with the ideas Oz presents, with the images Portman delivers. It's worth disappearing into an old, old language and confronting difficult truths about life.
"A fulfilled dream is a disappointing dream."
It's not exactly a chipper sentiment. But what a way to think about the way we live our lives, and the way we set expectations for ourselves. Is real life ever the way we dream it will be? Is the "Promised Land" ever truly free from tears?
Maybe not. But A Tale of Love and Darkness has a spark of unwavering hope, even amidst the shadows.
This review was first published on Narrative Muse, http://www.narrativemuse.co/movies/a-tale-of-love-and-darkness, and was written Debbie Holloway. Narrative Muse curates the best books and movies by and about women and non-binary folk on our website http://narrativemuse.co and our social media channels.
This is a beautiful, melancholy, dreamlike, sepia-toned child's remembrance of early Israel and a depressed mother. Based on the book by Amos Oz and written by, directed by, and starring Natalie Portman, the film is a montage of exquisitely photographed vignettes, lacking a compelling narrative arc. It is fascinating to watch Portman in Hebrew in mid-20th century Jerusalem. The film gives one cause to look for more from Portman as a director and filmmaker.
Well crafted and poetic, but not necessarily entertaining.
Sensible, intriguing and bittersweet! One of the things that impressed me was that I could feel the love of Amos for his mother, and vice versa, through the screen. The purest and powerful love. Truly a beautiful and well done movie. Natalie is amazing... as always!
based on history, based on love, vividly amazing with the stories told, and the way this film is. i really enjoyed it
Deep, beautiful and melancholy film. Great directorial debut by Portman!
How does this movie have any good ratings? Complete waste of time. Worst movie I have seen in years! Absolutely nothing happens in this movie except one thing. I feel the way the mom felt, overly depressed at how horrible this movie was. Can I have back the 1 hour and 40 mins I wasted of my life on this movie?
A Tale of Love and Darkness is a bit of a disjointed mess. Director Natalie Portman never quite settles on a concrete theme as she flits from story to story. It's all about stories, but ones that are never shown and ones that never seem to have any direct effect on the charters on screen we are asked to connect with. Portmanâ??s direction continually emphasizes the profound nature of the words being spoken with a complete overuse of slow motion which takes away any power the stories might have had. When everything is of the utmost importance, nothing is, resulting in a film that so desperately wants to be deep and meaningful that it manages to mean nothing at all.
The cinematography and period setting and styling is unquestionably superb, but the story is as dull as ditchwater.