Ofir Raul Graizer’s America features a love triangle of sorts, between Iris (Oshrat Ingadashet) and Eli (Michael Moshonov), above, who meet at her and Yotam’s flower shop, and Yotam (Ofri Biterman) and Eli, whose afternoon swim turns tragic. (screenshots courtesy Beta Cinema)
On Feb. 23 at Fifth Avenue Cinemas, the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival offers an award-winning teaser to next month’s festival. Ofir Raul Graizer’s America is an emotionally packed film that says as much with dialogue as it does visually.
We meet Ilai Cross in Chicago, where he is a beloved swimming teacher. With gentle sensitivity and patience, he helps kids overcome their fears and become comfortable in the water. He is great at his job, and seems happy, if solitary.
A phone call from a lawyer informing him that his father has died sends Ilai – whose real name, it turns out, is Eli Greenberg – back to Israel. He’s obviously uncomfortable being “home,” his policeman father’s retirement plaques and guns everywhere. There are reasons Eli left Israel for the (mythical) land of opportunity, America, which we eventually find out.
In contrast to his father’s stark, rundown, predominantly beige house and untended yard is the vibrant, life-filled flower shop of his childhood friend Yotam and fiancée Iris, and their brightly coloured living space, where they welcome Eli for dinner. Between some too-long hugs and what seem like yearning looks, one wonders just how close were friends Eli and Yotam, but the film gives nothing away.
When the two friends go swimming at an old haunt, an accident leaves Yotam in an extended coma. At first blaming Eli for the incident, Iris eventually bonds with him, in part because of their shared loss. When, 18 months later, Yotam wakes up, life changes again for Eli and for Iris, both of whom must make their own decisions as to what they consider the morally responsible way forward.
The acting is excellent. While Oshrat Ingadashet was awarded for her performance at the Jerusalem Film Festival last year, both Michael Moshonov, as Eli, and Ofri Biterman, as Yotam, deserve kudos, as well. All three actors play their roles with quiet force, emoting as much in a gesture as in words. The relatively sparse dialogue invites viewers to focus on what else is pictured in each scene, and Graizer lets shots of newspaper articles, an actor’s face or the landscape help tell the story. He respects viewers’ ability to handle ambiguity, answering enough questions to satisfy, but leaving much to discuss afterward. Cinematographer Omri Aloni’s work adds beauty and depth to the production.
America screens at the Rothstein Theatre on Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. To see the trailer and buy tickets to see the movie, visit vjff.org.
The Vancouver Jewish Film Festival opens March 9 and runs to March 16 at Fifth Avenue. There will be more in-person screenings March 17-19 at the Rothstein Theatre and select films will be available online March 19-26.