07 February, 2013

AJFF Review: "The World is Funny" (***)

Or Ben-Melech, Eli Finish, Asi Levi, Danny Steg, Naama Shitrit
and Moshe Ashkenazi star in "The World is Funny"

Tiberias is a gritty and beautiful city situated on the sun-drenched western shores of the Sea of Galilee. A hotspot for Christian pilgrims and global tourists, the relatively small city bustles with activity. "The World is Funny" is the first Israeli feature I've seen that takes place in Tiberias and it captures the town's warmth while keeping the focus on the community, not the resort destination. It's pretty easy to see why "The World is Funny" was huge box office hit in Israel. Featuring a large, goodlooking ensemble dealing with modern day, relatable problems– the commercial appeal is undeniable.

Keeping a slew of different subplots bound at the center is a community storytelling workshop. This is where the film succeeds most. The stories are shown in gray-scale, each containing enough humor and levity to provide some balance to the somber realities of the workshop members. Leaving this group is where the film starts to lose its punch. The filmmakers provided plenty of characters for us to want to follow and learn more about, but chose to give the most screentime to the least interesting. Zerfat (Naama Shitrit) is easily the film's most likable player and puts forth a sympathetic performance with hints at a lot bubbling under the surface. Unfortunately, the unofficial lead designation goes to Yardena (Asi Levi), who is a capable actress placed in a frustratingly tightly-wound role. Neither character, however, is granted any proper resolution or outlet for depth.

In accordance with limiting character development, the connections between characters and stories are at best mentioned, certainly not explored fully. The familial bonds between Meron (Danny Steg) and his sons (Moshe Ashkenazi and Or Ben-Melech) are fully fleshed out and resonate loudly, but the bonds between Meron and his siblings (Yedena and Golan, played by Eli Finish) are only displayed in cryptic, abbreviated statements. More questions are asked than answers are given. The message of overcoming adversity and rising above circumstance is clear, but plot holes distract attention away from the intended empowerment.

"The World is Funny" boasts a good cast and a thoughtfully layered societal structure, but suffers from a forgetful screenplay and as a result, too many gaps in what could have been an intimate portrait of modern Tiberias.

3 out of 5 stars.

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