Last night I saw the amazing Or (My Treasure). This is a sharply observed, clear-eyed look at the life of an 18-year-old girl and her relationship with her feckless mother. The story is set in Tel Aviv, but there is little that makes it specifically Israeli. Believe it or not, there are day-to-day problems in Israel not related to the intifada. In fact, no mention is made of the Palestinian conflict, even in the background.
The story unfolds rather organically and, if I have one complaint, a bit too slowly in the first half. We meet the girl, Or (Dana Ivgi), gathering plastic and glass bottles to collect money. She works scrubbing dishes in a restaurant. Sometimes she bothers to go to school. Her mother Ruthie (Ronit Elkabetz) is a streetwalker, addicted to the life, and resistant to Or’s attempts to find her work as a cleaning woman. The movie is unflinching in showing the degradations of their life, a life where Or has, of necessity, become more of the responsible adult than her mother.
The long-take, flawlessly acted moments of mother-daughter bonding feel so real that it is difficult to believe this is a first feature from director Keren Yedaya. Laurent Brunet, the cinematographer, is a major new talent as well. (The film justly won the Camera d’Or at Cannes this year.) Their collaboration has created an oppressive wrong-side-of-the-tracks Tel Aviv in exquisitely grimy detail.
But it is the performances that both complete this dark vision of the world and transcend it. Ivgi and Elkabetz are absolutely fearless actresses. As the story progresses, they each peel back the layers of these characters until they are both entirely emotionally naked. The antepenultimate scene, where Or simply watches Ruthie put on makeup, is more devastating than can possibly be imagined. By then, the film-makers had done their task so well I felt a sense of betrayal bordering on hopelessness that was physically shaking me.
If we can create one tenth of this experience with Ten Manipulations, I’ll be happy. An excellent, intense movie. Big recommend.
UPDATE: Manohla Dargis of the New York Times sandblasts the movie as voyeuristic, ideological and without depth. Dargis is very good at articulating her aversion, but is too busy ‘reading’ the film for sociological semes, I think, that she’s missed the whole point. (This is the major flaw in most of the A.O. Scott-dominated New York Times film reviews. These yazoos seem to consider the story-telling and film-making secondary to the hidden implications that can be drawn forth to make themselves look smarter. But that’s a rant for another day.)