February 22, 2007
IFF: Dark ‘Days,’ darker nights in Tel Aviv thriller
"Frozen Days," a stylish black-and-white psychological thriller about an isolated, alienated young woman in Tel Aviv, sounds like it should be an uninvolving, clichéd mess. Somehow, however, it works. Movies focusing on the alienated young in Tel Aviv -- and there have been many -- tend to be mind-numbingly boring.
But writer-director Danny Lerner makes us care for his heroine, and that makes all the difference in a project named the Best Israeli Film at the 2005 Haifa International Film Festival. Although there are moments when "Frozen Days" feels more like a Calvin Klein commercial than a movie, Lerner ultimately manages to capture the raw emotion of a young woman who's desperate to make a connection and unable to do so in the shadowy world she inhabits.
The heroine, played with intensity and quiet authority by Anat Klausner, is never named, but in the Internet chat room she frequents she goes by Meow. Her chat room friend, a shy young man named Alex Kaplan (Pini Tavger), pushes her for a face-to-face meeting, but she resists. She seems to live entirely on her own, sleeping in empty apartments once the real estate brokers leave, although she earns quite a lot of cash dealing Ecstasy at nightclubs. There are no friends or family in the picture.
In spite of her criminal profession, her chic thinness, her black coat and the motorcycle she uses to roar around the nighttime streets of Tel Aviv, she is looking for love, just as a far more conventional heroine might. She gives in to Alex, eventually letting him have her phone number and agreeing to meet. After a quick clinch she runs away, but asks him to meet her at a club later. Before they can find each other, however, a terrorist's bomb explodes, sending Alex to the hospital with serious injuries.
The film's next section, betraying its roots as a student project -- Lerner began it at Tel Aviv University's film school, then expanded it -- shows the heroine engaged in an activity that generally takes place only in the movies. She assumes Alex's identity, moving into his empty apartment, wearing his clothes, opening his mail and answering his phone. She encounters Alex's creepy neighbor (Sandra Sade), who assumes, not surprisingly, that she is Alex's wife. Again, this might all sound like a tired cliché, familiar from many movies, but somehow it is affecting in the manner of the alienated heroines in Jean-Luc Godard's early films.
When the neighbor -- whose frozen, tired smile becomes slightly menacing -- nags the heroine about attending a building committee meeting, the film begins to seem a little like an Israeli episode of "The Twilight Zone," which is a compliment, not a criticism.
Eventually, as Lerner grasps for an ending, the plot begins to seem more frantic than eerie. But the memory of the heroine's sad, depressed expression as she haunts the cold corridors of public buildings will stay with you after the movie is over.
The ending is meant to be a shocker but is telegraphed fairly early on, and may move or annoy you depending on your attitude toward the film's use of a terror bombing as a deus ex machina.
There is time, as the heroine races from the hospital to Alex's building to her drug supplier, to think a little about how Israeli movies in recent years have dealt with terrorism. In movie after movie, it seems as if Tel Aviv residents who live in "the bubble" -- ignoring the political situation and just trying to have a normal life -- are more than anything else bewildered by suicide bombs.
In films such as Haim Bouzaglo's "Distortion" and "Janem Janem" and Raphael Nadjari's "Stones," the bombs seem to come out of nowhere, like a tsunami or other natural disaster, interrupting Tel Aviv residents as they cheat on their spouses, exploit their workers and pursue their careers.
In Israeli movies, if a character sits down at a Tel Aviv cafe there is about a one in five chance he'll be blown to bits in the next few minutes.
Given that in the bubble there are no newspapers, no Palestinians, no reserve duty, no soldiers and no political discourse, it is not surprising that customers at Tel Aviv cafes are taken aback by it all. Suicide bombs seem to be just one more alienating, rotten part of life among the young and chic in Tel Aviv.
Eytan Fox, in his appropriately titled film "The Bubble," chose to examine this state of mind by bringing a Palestinian onto fashionable Sheinkin Street and showing how he disrupts the characters' Tel Aviv idyll with his very presence. But other than Fox, no filmmaker here has really faced this issue head-on.
If you're looking for a serious examination of the effects of terror, don't see "Frozen Days." But this movie does give a heartfelt, entertaining look at the lost world of Tel Aviv's young people.