Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
NYJFF ’13: The Fifth Heaven
is late 1944, several years before the declaration of the State of Israel. By the same token, the generous Israeli
social welfare system has also yet to be established. A remote desert orphanage is the only refuge
for a group of cast-off girls and their damaged caretakers. However, secrets from the director’s past
raise doubts for the institution’s future in Dina Zvi Riklis’s The Fifth Heaven (trailer here), which screens
during the 2013 New York Jewish Film Festival, co-presented by the Jewish
Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
father never was much, but he sinks even lower when he delivers her to Dr.
Markovski’s orphanage. The director, who
apparently has some ambiguous history with the family, understandably protests,
since Maya is not, strictly speaking, an orphan. Yet, the father has evidently fixed matters
with Markovski’s tight-fisted patron. We
quickly deduce Markovski once had an affair with Maya’s mother, who has long
since deserted her family, running off to America. Maya is a bit slower on the up-take.
history with Maya causes friction with his demur colleague and potential lover,
Frida. The orphanage’s new cleaning
woman Berta, the disowned daughter of an Orthodox family scandalously carrying
on with a British officer, further destabilizes the staff. Yet, it is the cache of arms stashed on the
roof by Duce, a staff-member’s Italian lover deeply involved in the underground
liberation movement, represents greater danger for the institution. Maya discovers his secret, but she has fallen
for his inappropriate charm offensive.
Fifth nicely captures
the strange duality experienced by Jewish residents of the British Mandate. On one hand, they bitterly resented their
colonialist rulers, while raptly following the British war efforts against the
National Socialists. Like many films set
in isolated private schools, there is a whole lot of repressed sexual tension
in the orphanage (almost entirely of the straight variety, though). Yet, the big revelations are almost entirely
given away in the opening scenes.
are small flashes of devastating power in Fifth. In contrast, the big confrontation scenes are
almost entirely drained of passion.
Never melodramatic, Riklis’s restraint is something of a double-edged
sword. Nonetheless, Yehezkel Lazarov’s
understated but deeply humanistic portrayal of Markovski perfectly suits her
approach. Rotem Zisman-Cohen also stands
out as Berta, getting the film’s one big episode of acting-out. Oddly, the lead is rather icily stand-offish,
while the rest of the young ensemble is largely indistinguishable.
A finely crafted period production, Fifth is sensitively underscored by the
original themes and classical piano interpretations of Josef
Bardanashvili. It might be a mixed bag,
but it has its moments. Recommended for
patrons of Israeli cinema, Fifth Heaven screens
this Thursday (1/17) and Sunday (1/20) as part of this year’s NYJFF, now underway
at the Walter Reade Theater.
Labels: Israeli Cinema, NYJFF'13