Montreal Israel Film Fest part 1: Mabul and My Australia

The 8th annual Montreal Israel Film Festival is soon to be upon us and for the next two weeks here at Friday Film review I’ll be taking a look at some of the films you can see this year. First up is The Flood and My Australia, two films that seem almost diametrically opposed in some respects.

The Flood (Mabul)

The Flood is set in contemporary Israel and stars Yoni, a 13 year old boy desperate to grow up. He works out, downs protein powder and even screams to try and deepen his voice. His Bar Mitzvah is approaching and he is desperate to become a man.

Yoni’s family life is fraught with drama. His parents’ marriage is rapidly dissolving and his autistic brother Tomer has been moved home after years in a treatment institute.

I could tell you everything else that’s going on in and around his life, but it would honestly fill this entire column, which leads me to my one observation about this film: it has a TON going on. Literally everyone in Tomer’s family has some kind of drama happening that could easily be the focus of an entire movie. His mother is having an affair, his father’s pilots license has been suspended, this movie has more subplots and storylines than The Dark Knight.

But unlike that film, The Flood  just barely escapes feeling cramped or even worse, having all the plates it’s spinning come crashing down on it. Barely. The film does a very good job of cutting between the stories and subplots to remind us of everything that’s going on, although there are a few times when I did completely forget about one of the B (or maybe C) plots that the film didn’t address very often.

Where things falter for me is the ending. Many of these subplots don’t get a proper resolution. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, bear in mind. Leaving things open ended is good, and the film would have been far worse off if it had somehow wrapped it all up in a neat little package.

But the thing is, almost everything is left open ended. Several of the important relationships in the film do seem to have a proper arc and ending, such as Yoni and his brother, but most of it is left hanging. There is a climax, but it’s almost entirely incidental, a seemingly random crisis that arises and is resolved when one character has a somewhat random change of heart.

Ending aside, the way the film manages to juggle the various plot threads and stories is very good. However a bit of streamlining, such as the removal of one of the subplots to give more focus elsewhere, would have greatly improved the film.

The acting is superb, with Yoav Rotman as Yoni turning out a mostly likeable child protagonist and Michael Moshonov giving a terrific performance as Tomer. The supporting cast ranges from good to excellent, with no noticeably weak performances to speak of.

All in all, The Flood is a great, if slightly overambitious film that would have been truly fantastic with a bit more focus.

My Australia

A period piece set in mid 1960s Poland and Israel, My Australia features another child protagonist. This time our star is a young boy named Tadek and his family moves from their home in Poland to Israel after he and discovers that both he and his brother are half Jewish, which forces him to re-evaluate his previously anti-Semitic anger.

After arriving, Tadek finds himself an outsider for his Polish heritage and struggles to find a new identity for himself, all the while drifting apart from his older brother Andrzej.

While The Flood seemed to be bursting with plot, My Australia is definitely at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a somewhat sparse narrative. The focus of the story is definitely Tadek, with other characters seeming to drift in and out. This can sometimes work in the film’s favor, but more often works against it.

The film seems to wander, often playing fast and loose with typical story structure. In mapping out the typical story arc, one would be hard pressed to find which of the several important events would qualify as the climax. Certain scenes seem to go on way longer than necessary, and it seems like the film spent far too much time just puttering around.

Now, remember how I said The Flood‘s ending was a tad unsatisfying? My Australia is the same, but without the “a tad.” The ending literally comes out of nowhere and offers little to no closure whatsoever. And there’s almost no poetry or subtlety to it, it’s literally the characters walking hand in hand and one of them says “It’ll be tough, but we’ll make it.” Really? Is there any way you could have gotten that across without, y’know, just saying it? Show, don’t tell, movie!

The acting is decent but really nothing huge to write home about. Jakub Wroblewski does a good job at Tadek but seems to have trouble with the more emotionally nuanced stuff. Lukasz Sikora fares slightly better as his brother, but only slightly.

Overall, if The Flood is a tightly packed sandwich just barely able to contain all its elements, My Australia is a hamburger with a tasty but thin meat patty. Enjoyable, but somewhat unsatisfying in the end.

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