Aug 19, 2016
A Tale Of Love And Darkness
Actress Natalie Portman has adapted and directed Amos Oz's beautifully written memoir of the same name for the screen. Bravely, she shot the movie in Hebrew, which is her native tongue, to honor Oz's gorgeous language, which is apparent even in the English subtitles. The novel is remarkable because it is not only the story of a childhood spent as the State of Israel came into being, but as the "tale" in its title implies, it is also a book about how our lives are filled with stories, and how these stories heard at home, gleaned around the neighborhood, experienced or caught on the fly, inspire some people to become writers like Amos Oz.
The screenplay employs a voiceover narration (by the wonderful Moni Moshonov) that effectively conveys Oz's voice. But it is noticeably the work of an inexperienced screenwriter. Portman gets the emotional tenor of embattled immigrants arriving in a desertic, embattled land well, but her script ignores the basic rules of cinematic storytelling. Scenes start late and end too soon, or start too early and continue way past their ending; characters start actions that are never resolved, so there is no sense of forward momentum to the story. The plot has been rendered in impressionistic vignettes, presumably to evoke the texture of memory. However, Oz's reminiscences are immediate and concrete. He brings the past to life in extraordinarily detailed dimension. The earthy source material, full of rich anecdote and observation, is the opposite of a tone poem.
Adapting this impressive book is an ambitious effort, but this is a good example of how a bad script and rookie direction can ruin a film even if the source material is brilliant.
Portman plays Fania, Oz's mother, a recent immigrant to Jerusalem fresh from pre-war Europe, who has trouble integrating to this new country, also menaced by war. Portman is fine, as she tends to be good at portraying emotionally intense women, and she plays a strong-willed, yet fragile woman who is most alive when she escapes into her imagination and tells young Amos fantastic stories, but ends up withdrawn, a silent bundle of depression.
The rest of the cast is underwhelming. In Room, young Jacob Tremblay carried the movie and made the story believable with his poise and alertness, but Amir Kessler, who plays young Amos, seems to recede into the background. Except for Moshonov's gorgeous narration, none of the character actors make any impression. Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak does his best to make the movie look good, and the editors piece the story together as best they can. A Tale Of Love And Darkness is reduced to a sketch in this film version.