Time Of Favor

on January 18, 2002 by Wade Major
   The recent attention accorded Israeli films obviously owes as much to ongoing regional tensions as to the legitimate merits of filmmakers like Amos Gitai, who, with films like “Kippur,” has helped call attention to the fact that there is more to Israeli cinema than examining life on a kibbutz. Either way, it's audiences who stand to benefit the most from the further import of pictures by lesser-known filmmakers like Joseph Cedar, writer/director of “Time of Favor,” an intense character study that uses external concerns to turn an unsparing eye on internal conflicts.

   A uniquely Israeli mix of politics, religion and militarism underlies this surprisingly intimate film in which a conventional love triangle is beset by wholly unconventional circumstances. Menachem (Ricky Martin look-alike Aki Avni) is both a devoted yeshiva student and a loyal soldier, sworn to defend the West Bank settlement in which he lives. In fulfilling his charge to form a company with local recruits, he has drawn upon fellow yeshiva students. And yet, as much as his superiors cannot help but be impressed by the quality of the recruits, they remain wary of what appears to be growing influence on the part of the yeshiva's ultra-nationalistic Rabbi Meltzer (Assi Dayan), a man who preaches the urgent and impending restoration of Jerusalem's temple in the site where a holy Muslim mosque now sits.

   But such matters are of relatively minor importance to Menachem, who struggles with hidden feelings for Meltzer's fiercely independent daughter Michal (Tinkerbell), already betrothed in her father's mind to his favorite student Pini (Edan Alterman), who, as it happens, is also among Menachem's most trusted soldiers. It's a familiar small-town scenario, played out for centuries in numerous cultures and always with the same results. Everyone pays a price and no one gets what they want. Menachem refuses to act on his feelings while Michal defies her father and repeatedly rebuffs Pini's advances, finally leaving the unrequited lover with no choice but to resort to desperate measures with potentially dire consequences for all involved.

   There's a touch of Shakespearean manipulation in Cedar's work--Pini is a sort of Puck and Iago rolled into one--but the particulars are uniquely Israeli. Under normal conditions, the intertwining of geopolitics with a simple love triangle would seem absurd and contrived. Here it seems not only credible but ominous. As Rabbi Meltzer lectures his students on the need to subvert their individual selves in the interest of serving a greater national cause, one is struck at once by the fanaticism but also the dilemma. This, it seems, is the only way that life can be lived in a place like Israel--the one corner of the globe where human beings are made subservient to the value of territory rather than the other way around. No surprise, then, that under such conditions human interaction should take shape as a different kind of territorial dispute--a predicament that Cedar indicates poisons both the private and the public life for Jew and Muslim alike.

   In the end, Cedar stops short of suggesting a solution quite simply because there is none. For all of its underlying complexities, “Time of Favor” embraces a stirringly simple message--that blind devotion in the service of a cause dehumanizes the very people the cause is designed to serve.    Starring Aki Avni, Tinkerbell, Edan Alterman, Assi Dayan and Micha Selektar. Directed by Joseph Cedar. Written by Joseph Cedar. Produced by David Mandil and Eyal Shiray. A Kino release. Drama. Hebrew-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 101 min.

Tags: Aki Avni, Tinkerbell, Edan Alterman, Assi Dayan, Micha Selektar, Joseph Cedar, David Mandil, Eyal Shiray, A Kino release, Drama, devotion, dire, internal conflicts, politics, religion

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