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GOCRITIC!

GoCritic! Review: Redemption

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- A blast from recent past that travels and certainly will continue to: a Karlovy Vary-premiering Israeli film that garnered its star the best actor award and was also very well received at Toronto

GoCritic! Review: Redemption

Yossi Madmoni and Boaz Yehonotan Yacov’s Redemption [+see also:
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tells the story of a forty-something Israeli ex-rock singer, who after turning to observant Orthodox Judaism, still wrestles with his own sense of faith and righteousness. Donned in tallit, tzitzit and payot, he looks the part, but in his view, his ‘menschdom’ is lacking. Leavened with authenticity and humour, this Israeli production doesn’t probe the region’s political conflicts, and the occupied territories and Palestinian population go unmentioned, distinguishing it from other well-distributed recent films of note from auteurs such as Samuel Maoz and Amos Gitai. Insular as its view may seem to outsiders, however, Redemption deserves much exposure and maybe some sales activity abroad, where it would find appreciative audiences especially in the Anglo-Jewish diaspora. 

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Shuffling around, head down, but with an even-tempered, personable manner, Menny (Moshe Folkenflick) conjures up memories of peak-era Ben Gazzara, and Redemption definitely has something of John Cassavetes in its over-the-shoulder handheld style and warmly bruised humanism. There are even flickers of that director’s Husbands (1970) as Menny reluctantly reforms his old heavy rock band and the errant, boozy personalities comprising it, in order to play Israeli folk songs on the wedding circuit. Menny himself is a widower who cares for his seven-year-old daughter Geula (Emily Grann); she is the only light and happiness in his life, as he forges on with continual religious study and a mundane job in a kosher supermarket. His suffering is compounded by Guela’s cancer diagnosis at the film’s start, which sends him seeking a funding source for her expensive treatment. And so his fingers edge towards his bandmates’ contact numbers on his smartphone…

The most impressive aspect of Madmoni and Yacov’s film is its lack of sentimentality. Less assured filmmakers would be tempted by the emotional dividends of mawkish uplift and sitcom-style personality clashes. A funereal, downbeat tone is maintained; Menny’s first rendezvous with lead guitarist Avi, lounging with a groupie in a club green room, is portrayed like a meeting between a pusher and user, or two ex-cons looking for a new score. It’s not even clear what they’re planning on doing together, until a hard cut whisks us into the rowdy ‘ruach’ of a Jewish simcha (meaning festive occasion), with the band of Menny, Avi (Sivan Shtivy), Goolie (Yonatan Galila) and Danny (Shahar Even-Tzur) swinging like they’d never broken up. Here, the pic’s slightly ill-fitting use of anamorphic lenses and mainly handheld setups comes alive. These sequences are joyous, and the band’s cringey lyrics, all sung in unison (‘the pomegranate has budded, and my vine has blossomed’) seem genuinely romantic.

These wedding performances are so well-received that the band, reclaiming their old name ‘High Beams’, begin to mount an authentic comeback. A gig at a prestigious venue, with proper media coverage, is planned. The gulf between past and present is wittily invoked as we learn the band was once classified as ‘existential grunge’ and had CD jewel case art resembling a very non-kosher mix of Jane’s Addiction and The Smashing Pumpkins. These concluding sequences are well-juxtaposed by another memorable image: Menny mouthing words in prayer whilst clutching Geula’s hand, as she sleeps in a hospital bed while her heart monitor beeps. Redemption doesn’t fully reconcile religion, rationality and rock n’ roll; it rather mingles them in a form of a question, passionately querying if they have any right to be associated in the spiritual void of modern Israel.

This article was written as part of GoCritic! training programme.

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