on February 27, 2004 by Sheri Linden
The lives of a dozen or so Tel Aviv residents intertwine in "Alila," Amos Gitai's well-observed social drama. Basing his film on the novel "Returning Lost Loves" by Yehoshua Knaz, Gitai focuses on an apartment complex in a run-down, working-class section of the city and uses single-take scenes to emphasize the interconnectedness of neighbors' lives. As moving as many of the performances are, the nuances of the story might be lost on those not familiar with local politics and culture. For non-Israeli audiences, "Alila" is an alternately illuminating and confounding glimpse into seldom-seen aspects of the country.

Yael Abecassis plays Gabi, a woman who, on the surface, is worlds apart from the Orthodox married woman the actress portrayed in Gitai's 1999 "Kadosh." But elements of self-denial and despair connect the two characters. In glamour wig and Jackie O. shades, Gabi makes frequent visits to a tiny apartment in the complex for turbulent rendezvous with Hezi (Amos Lavie). The secrecy of their affair excites Gabi but worries her divorced friend Mali (Hanna Laslo). Involved with a younger man (Liron Levo), Mali must face the constant presence of her sad-sack ex, Ezra (Uri Klauzner), a contractor who is overseeing the expansion of a neighbor's apartment with a crew of illegal Chinese workers he hired off the street. The construction project, which is for a shrill policewoman (Ronit Elkabetz) who rages against anything and everything, infuriates another neighbor: Nazi camp survivor Schwartz (Yosef Carmon) only wants to enjoy his old age in peace and quiet, in the gentle care of housekeeper Linda, a sad-eyed Filipina.

"Alila" captures the teeming, multicultural sprawl of the neighborhood, although the drama feels distended and tends to lag as it proceeds. There are references to an upcoming election whose meaning won't be clear to many U.S. viewers. They might draw inferences, however, based on surprisingly poignant events late in the story, when Mali and Ezra overcome their differences to deal with their despondent son (Amit Mestechkin), a military deserter. The performances are strong, and Gitai lets the camera capture telling moments of solitude, especially when Abecassis, an actress of luminous virtuosity, shows Gabi awakening from her self-destructive fog. Starring Yael Abecassis, Uri Klauzner, Hanna Laslo, Ronit Elkabetz, Amos Lavie, Lupo Berkowitch, Liron Levo, Yosef Carmon, Amit Mestechkin and Lyn Shiao Zamir. Directed by Amos Gitai. Written by Amos Gitai and Marie-José Sanselme. Produced by Amos Gitai, Laurent Truchot and Michael Tapuach. A Kino release. Drama. Hebrew-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 116 min

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