102 minutes

There are two films vying for space in Israeli director Eran Riklis' muddled dramedy. One is a pretty good, melancholy satire of modern society, the other a tiresome comedy of comeuppance that skates perilously close to thin ice. At heart, it's a well-meaning piece, following what happens when an Eastern immigrant to Israel dies in a bomb attack without anyone noticing; she is found to have worked at an industrial bakery and, as he tracks back the case in an intriguing quasi-detective mystery in reverse, the human resources manager finds she had been let go by a compassionate supervisor who didn't report the dismissal. Forced to accompany the repatriation of the body to her native Eastern European village as a PR stunt, the HR manager, going through a rough patch of his own, finds in his trip full of surreal events the fire he needs to get back on his feet.

     Once it moves into Eastern Europe (Romania, actually, though the country is never named), though, the film's subdued melancholy gives way to boisterous ethnic comedy of a genre that only Emir Kusturica (and even so only for a brief period in the late 1990s) managed to pull off successfully, resorting far too much to stereotyping and exotic local colour that can be unwittingly borderline offensive. It's all the more mystifying since the film itself (adapted from A. B. Yehoshua's novel A Woman in Jerusalem) is meant as a well-meaning plea against stereotyping but fails to even keep pace – unlike the dead woman, none of the principal characters are ever given a name, but none other than the HR manager are given any shot at character development to become fully-fleshed out persons (see Gili Alfi's caricatural muck-raking journalist).

     Mark Ivanir's committed, brilliant performance as the despondent, conflicted executive, holding the entire film together, and the stately if Kafkaesque conclusion to his road trip, do reclaim some of the gravitas suggested by the opening stretch and lost as the film moves forward - but, ultimately, aren't enough to make up for the shortcomings of its well-meaning proposition.

Starring Mark Ivanir, Gili Alfi, Noah Silver, Rozina Cambus, Julian Negulesco, Bogdan Stanoevitch; and Gila Almagor.
     Directed by Eran Riklis; produced by Haim Mecklberg, Estee Yacov-Mecklberg, Elie Meirovitz, Thanassis Karathanos, Karl Baumgartner, Tudor Giorgiu, Talia Kleinhendler; screenplay by Noah Stollman, based on the novel by A. B. Yehoshua, A Woman in Jerusalem; music by Cyril Morin; director of photography (super 16 film, processing by FDK, Kodak Cinelabs Romania), Rainer Klausmann; production designers, Dan Toader, Yoel Herzberg; costume designers, Li Alembik, Adina Bucur; film editor, Tova Asher.
     A 2-Team Productions production, in co-production with Pallas Film, EZ Films, Hai Hui Entertainment, Pie Films, ZDF/ARTE; with support from the Yehoshua Rabinovich Fund for Film and Television, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung and Romanian National Centre for Cinematography. (World sales, Pyramide International.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Medeia King 1 (Lisbon), August 4th 2011.


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