“An Israeli Love Story”

The film “Sipur Ahava Eretz Israeli” is based on a mono-drama written by Pnina Gary. It is a true love story which took place in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel. 1947 is captured well, both politically and personally. Our protagonist, Margalit, ( Adi Bielsky) is a young 18 year old, still living at home and dreaming of an acting career. Her love interest, Eli, ( Aviv Alush)  is 24 and a soldier. Eli Ben-Tzvi’s father will become the second President of Israel. Pnina Gary is now 90, and an acclaimed Israeli actress. In “An Israeli Love Story”, she is Margalit.

Margalit’s relationship with her parents, who are immigrants from the Ukraine is sweetly well-developed. She is a typical teen with flawed social planning skills, and likewise, adept at  last minute changes. Margalit thinks nothing of bringing a strange boy, who she just met home for dinner. Since, his car broke down he is offered to spend the night in one of the outbuildings. Her father sees immediately how taken she is with him. He tells his refugee stories about being with the Russians and having to blow their soup to move the worms and insects away. Margalit can not wait before sharing this with her girl friend. They laugh together about predictable parents.

Scenes with the bee hives and her father’s entrepreneurialism, as well as, her mother’s cooking show Margalit as a loving daughter, who is supported by her parents’ love. The holding of the shoulders takes on touching significance throughout the film.

Many of the camera shots have Margalit with her back to a wall. Initially, before the beginning flashback, we see and hear her reading a letter from Eli’s inconsolable mother, Rachel. When we hear of their cherished bond as lovers of Eli, we know that a sad end awaits us.

Dan Wolman’s direction plays well with metaphors of earnest action and impassioned imagination even when one seems backed against an immovable force. The tone is one of dark tranquility meshed with a call to live.

Refugees disembark in the dead of night, and Eli helps in the boat transport. Margalit sees him with a female worker and dismayed, botches her efforts to bring blankets as directed. She is inefficient at humanitarian efforts when her heart is broken. She opines dramatically to her friend, “ I don’t exist for him!” Young girls are understood by both the screenwriter and the director, here.

The cinematography is best during the courtship, which does ensue after many attempts on Margalit’s and her friend’s part. Reflections in moving bus windows of the trip to the kibbutz , and scenes in the orchard, the  hayloft, and the two on horseback  are lovely.

Major themes of war and peace are shown through the recitation of poetry. Biblical verses take on chilling revenge pronouncements: “The sword of Saul return not empty.” The humanities are shown as effective agents of social change on the more peaceful side.

Scenes where Arabs and Jews mingle and interact are shown. Ironically, trespassing boundaries cause the most contention. The herds of Bedouin sheep keep eating the kibbutz planted vegetables.

The kibbutz living is hard on Margalit. She does not like the sharing of property, whereas Eli believes that private property would ruin everything about the communal structure of the kibbutz. Eli is patient to a point with Margalit. He admits that sharing does not come naturally. Eli is committed to the kibbutz, and he tells Margalit in no uncertain terms that he is part of the people living here.

“ I am not leaving this place.” They agree to take a break to think over their commitments.

An actor in Haifa, who Margalit has admired openly after attending his play, invites her to see a favorite singer. He has predatory intentions, and she is embarrassed by her innocence in almost being duped.

Eli comes for Margalit at her parents’ home, and she is in Tel Aviv. She later goes to him and they reunite.

Preparations for Eli and Margalit’s wedding is full of embroidery, baking, cracking eggs, music and high expectations. Listening to the country by country vote on Israeli statehood is a nice touch. Over the radio we hear, “ France, yes; Greece, no; Haiti, yes; Brazil, yes; Yugoslavia, abstention ; United States, yes; etc… History is being made while the Bedouin flocks are in the fields again. When Eli and brigade leave to chase them off, Eli is cautious. They are ambushed.

Coffins and a stoic graveside scene is next. Margalit drops to her knees and is raised up by her father as he holds her shoulders to steady her.

At her theater sessions, Margalit has directed her troupe to practice again and again: not only with words, but with action. When one of her key actors was shot on patrol, the theatre troupe had asked for a break. Margalit, like a soldier, told  them that they would  carry on in the same way with the same tempo. Life would  go on. This is true as the film ends, also. Margalit is seen at the rural bus stop, ready to begin again.

“Born To Be Blue”

The image of a scorpion crawling out of a trumpet’s horn sets the tone for this Chet Baker bio-op. We know all will end badly, yet we are surprised by how moved we are. The flame-out jazz trumpeter tears at our hearts. We want this father of West Coast swing to conquer his demons so badly.

Most of this emotion is brought to bear because of the incredible acting of Ethan Hawke. I can not stress how much this actor draws us in to the soulful musician, the deluded junkie, the angry son, the insecure come-back kid, and the inventive lover. Hawke is amazing, a romantic tour de force, just jealous enough, just playful enough, just melancholy enough. Hawke does his own singing. With “My Little Valentine” stirring every listener’s breath,  you consider Hawke a romantic lead for the first time. Part of this has to do with the dynamic chemistry between Carmen Ejogo and Hawke. Sex sizzles and notes soar.

Carmen Ejogo is Jane, the woman Baker adores. She is lovely and insightful and giving. Baker flirts with Jane, “Come back to my place and we can sing.”  Ejogo lights up the screen with her knowing, “You are trouble.” Her glow at her trumpet-valve ring  and her insistence on Baker “staying clean” says much about her character. She is no nonsense when she intones, “I don’t date zombies, Chet.” Whether bowling or walking the beach, or delivering her last lines: “Don’t be sorry for me!” , you will remember her in this film.

Director/writer Robert Budreau uses a unique color tool to keep the West Coast and the East Coast scenes orderly. All Pacific scenes are in color while all Atlantic scenes are shot in black and white. Close shots are perfectly alternated with long shots. Visually, this is a treat. We enjoy the facial muscles and the shaded eyes more once we see waves dashing a shoreline or light at a tunnel’s end.  Head shots don’t get claustrophobic.

While the cinematography is lovely, even the bloodied face of an assaulted Baker is artful, it is the music that permeates our psyches. Hawke’s slicked-back hair, his finger placement on the keys, the strong cords of his neck, even his missing teeth pay homage to his talent, but the mixture of song and story had theater goers sitting in their seats to read the last song title credited.

Three other characters round out the Chet Baker story. His parole officer is played by Canadian actor Tony Nappo. As Officer Reid he has twenty-five years of experience working with musician addicts. Portrayed with humor and caring, Reid both winces and laughs at Chet’s accusation: ” It is people like you who killed Billy Holliday!” He counters with, “Try to be happy for more than ten minutes.” They “get “methadone, and they “get” each other. Reid delivers one of the film’s most homiletic lines: ” If a man sits in a barber shop long enough, he is going to get a haircut.”

Dick, Chet’s manager, is played just as successfully by Callum Keith Rennie. Tough love and moist, joyful eyes show up again when Chet’s hard work earns Baker a gig at “Birdland”.  Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie sit in here and add tribute to the junkie jazz man. Even though Miles’ earlier putdown  lingers:” Go back to the beach, man. Come back when you have lived a little.”

The third  significant man in Baker’s life may be his dealer, but we don’t meet him. The story arc encompasses just the early to  mid-to-late sixties. We do get a glimpse at Chet’s father, a  curmudgeon of an Oklahoman, who farms sarcasm as well as he farms pigs. Calling his son a diminutive “Chetty”, he asks “Why did you have to sing like a girl?” ” Why drag the Baker name through the mud (with your drugs) ?”   Though Mr. Baker has contributed to his son’s love of music , we get glimpses of  a very lonely childhood. His rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” we see as having true emotional roots.

Be ready for some extreme violence and lyrics  that tear at your heart. Chet Baker is seen here as a fragile man, soft-spoken and vulnerable. I don’t believe it is true that he never hurt anyone, but himself. There were a lot of filmgoers who felt pummeled at  his ” forgive this helpless haze I’m in”. Only Chet Baker was born to be blue. Need I say: Do not miss.