A Tale of Love and Darkness

(2015)

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Title:
A Tale of Love and Darkness
Release Date:
1st May 2015
Runtime:
95 min
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Genres:
Directors:
Natalie Portman
Writers:
Amos Oz, Natalie Portman
Languages:
Hebrew
Stream Quality:
1080p / 720p / 480p

Storyline

A Tale of Love and Darkness is based on the memories of Amos Oz, growing up in Jerusalem in the years before Israeli statehood with Arieh, his academic father and Fania, his dreamy, imaginative mother. They were one of many Jewish families who moved to Palestine from Europe during the 1930s and 40s to escape persecution. Arieh was cautiously hopeful for the future but Fania wanted much more. The terror of the war and running from home had been followed by the tedium of everyday life, which weighed heavily on Fania's spirit. Unhappy in her marriage and intellectually stifled, she would make up stories of adventures (like treks across the desert) to cheer herself up and entertain her 10-year-old son Amos. He became so enraptured when she read him poetry and explained about words and language; it would become an influence on his writing for the rest of his life. When independence didn't bring the renewed sense of life that Fania had hoped for, she slipped into solitude and sadness. Unable to help her, Amos was forced to say an untimely good-bye. As he witnessed the birth of Israel, he had to come to terms with his own new beginning.

Ratings

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 64%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience 55%
IMDb Rating 6.3

Casts

Amir Tessler as Amos Oz
Makram Khoury as Halawani
Natalie Portman as Fania Oz
Ohad Knoller as Israel Zarchi
Shira Haas as Unknown

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by David Ferguson (fergusontx@gmail.com) 21st April, 2016

tell me a story

Greetings again from the darkness. The establishment of the state of Israel and the memoir of Amos Oz are the foundation of the feature film directorial debut of Natalie Portman. First time directors don't typically fight over such source material, but it has always seemed that Ms. Portman was headed towards bigger (and more important) things. She was born in Jerusalem and this story opens in that city during 1945. The narrator is the elderly Amos and the story is told through the eyes of young Amos (a very effective Amir Tessler) … though the focus is on his mother Fania (played by Ms. Portman). The tensions between Jews and Arabs are ever-present, but this is the mostly personal and intimate struggle of Fania and her family. She has survived the atrocities of the Holocaust, though many of her family and friends did not. In fact, her inability to overcome this past and adjust to the new world is what has the biggest impact on young Amos and his scholarly father Arieh (Gilad Kahana). Amos soon figures out that the litmus test for his mother's mood is whether she is telling stories of the old days, or staring blankly into a void. Watching someone fade away and experience death by depression/disappointment/unfulfilled dreams goes so against what we typically see on screen – the emotionally strong and heroic types. Portman's performance makes it believable, but no less difficult to watch … for us or young Amos. The film is well shot and well acted, and much more is conveyed through faces and movement than spoken words … somewhat unusual for the recollections of a writer. The color palette and the silence dominate many scenes, and it seems appropriate given the situation of this family. Expect to see many more projects from director Portman, as she obviously has much to say.

Reviewed by hadarbechor 17th October, 2015

True to Oz

I had read the book when it was first published, and I felt it was a masterpiece. Oz captured the dark and difficult yet hopeful period of Jewish and Israeli history so well - from the siege on Jerusalem, to relations with Palestenians, to the impact of uprooted Eastern European Jewish survivors' lives. He also let us into the secrets of his childhood. It is a profound book. Of course to turn this long and complex tale into a movie is very challenging, and especially as a directorial debut. However, I felt that Natalie Portman and her team captured the essence of the book. The period scenes, the choice of important segments of the book, the characters - it felt familiar to me, true to the book. I'm sorry to read in a couple reviews that the historical references did not register. I personally feel that she did justice to the period, the place and the story. Yes, it was dark for the most part. Because Amos Oz remembered his childhood as dark, because of the times, the atmosphere in the home (his parents were mismatched), the poverty and the fear. And mostly because of his mother's falling into illness. In the book Oz never mentioned a diagnosis, but it was clear, and made clear in the movie as well, that she was clinically depressed, and no treatment was available. One of the parts I liked the best in the movie, was the sporadic appearance of the "new Jew" prototype, which she adored, and which her husband did not fit in the least. The handsome, strong man, the antithesis of the Eastern European Jewish nerdy and scholarly type. What she did with this mythic male at the end of the movie was brilliant, and the narrator also tells us that he himself tried to become this man, and couldn't. Maybe the viewers need to read some background before watching the film, but I felt justice was done to the book and to the spirit of it. Those who dismiss the linguistic aspects need to realize that the new and forming language, Hebrew, and the father and son's interests in life, are tied together, and represent a very important part of the story. That is probably why Natalie Portman insisted on the movie being in Hebrew. Will she adapt it into an English version? Maybe.

Reviewed by Nozz 20th September, 2015

A long string of cinematic poems

The movie is beautiful and sometimes quite self-conscious about it, settling into a sequence of many set pieces each of which seems to make a point of its own until remembering them all (to see how they're relevant later on) becomes quite a chore, at least for a bear of little brain like me. There is not much dramatic impetus driving the film along, except that at one point the War of Independence carries the action with its start, middle, and end. What keeps the audience in its seat is more the poetry of the visuals and the thoughtfulness of the text than any great tension or suspense from moment to moment. A juvenile actor in a major role is always a challenge. In this case, the kid certainly doesn't spoil the movie, but he doesn't make the scenes his own either. His looks don't proclaim him to be the naive and sensitive outsider he's supposed to be; in fact his looks aren't distinctive at all, and a single child actor is used for too many years of plot. (At the start he's behaving too much younger than he looks.) The narrator explains in retrospect that the Arabs and Jews of Palestine would have got along fine if only they had understood they were all fellow victims of Europe. The proposition is questionable in the light of the current war of civilizations, but coming from writer Amos Oz it is a mercifully mild example of his kooky politics and we're lucky the film contains nothing worse. Natalie Portman was allowed to make Oz' book into a melancholy elegy that resembles a walk through a beautiful but exhaustingly large museum. Item after item. "It was nice," I said to my wife afterward. "It was, but toward the end I was just waiting for it to finish," she replied.

Reviewed by lucasnochez 16th September, 2015

TIFF40 2015 Film Review: A Tale of Love and Darkness

"It's better to be sensitive than to be honest". It is no surprise that first time writer/director Natalie Portman is taking a Pro-Jewish stance in her newest film A Tale of Love and Darkness. A celebrated novel by one of, if not the most prolific novelists hailing from Israel, Amos Oz; a last name that literally translates to "hope" in Hebrew. Oz is a novelist whose book serves as a large and hopeful story towards conflict flooding the Middle East. Sadly for Portman, whose keen eye and collaboration with many talented directors, has allowed her to visually over-stylize her film with beauty and tones of dark and tragically elegant glimpses, without much of a handle on narrative and storytelling. A Tale of Love and Darkness is more dark than it is loving; seemingly with all but mere glimmers of hope for its small group of main characters. As the film begins, we are aware that an older Oz is telling a story, his story more specifically, essentially providing a voice-over for his novel. Narrating his words and recounting his childhood years after the Second World War, during a time Israel is under British mandate, a young Oz navigates a barren and soulless country while the politics and ramifications of war break down all around him. His only salvation are his zestful mother and realistic father. His mother Fania (Portman) and father Arieh (Gilad Kahana) are not wealthy. Ariel is an aspiring writer and librarian, Fania, a dedicated housewife who we understand leaves a life of wealth for love and motherhood, is a dreamer. Although she always imagined marrying a rebel/poet/farmer, Fania's expectations are always challenged against her realities. The illusions and aphorisms within Fania's head are all stories of dread, drearily setting the tone for the mentality of many people during this time. It is when Fania begins her monologues about these parables that Portman's direction was at its strongest. Perhaps highly lit and stylized to their full potential, these stories provided audiences with a very real and optimistic promise of resolution and sometimes painful acceptance of war and conflict, yet so elegantly presented. Luckily, these stories account for a hefty portion of the film and drive the not-so-long runtime through smoothly. There is no surprise that throughout the course of Portman's adaptation of Darkness, Oz is fully in love with his mother and her relentless attitude. Portman's cinematic take on the novel sadly disconnects her audience from the deep relationship between a young Oz and his living and loving mother Fania. Plagued with sleepy fade outs, incoherent scenes developing a young Oz and a highly depressed Fania, mixed with a blend of illustrious illusions and parables, pushed with a dash of Arieh's involvement with the family, Darkness is a dimly lit tragedy filled with hardly any love and mostly resent. Much like her character Fania, the light that so easily gleamed from her eyes and into the lives of other characters surrounding her, Fania's light slowly fades, bulldozing her character into a state of depression. Portman is a dynamic actress with a very strong political voice when it comes to many of the conflicts happening in the Middle East today. As a recent Oscar winner and Harvard graduate with an articulate and respectable celebrity presence, it is difficult to imagine many critics and film reviewers giving scathing reviews for a piece of work that isn't all that good. Portman's efforts behind and in front of the camera are very admirable; her promise as a director is highly confident and most of all, her content is riveting, just not in this film. Darkness is a film that toys with the failed promises of youth, speaks in a cocky and overstuffed tone of ethereal Hebrew that fails to connect its audience to the words and highly complex fantasies running through Oz's and Fania's head. Poetic, tragic, benign with its potential perspective to show a very unbiased side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Portman's feature directorial and writing debut is a tale of much promise. Portman may have tried to show the most innocent and bare examples of the conflict through scenes between children; one involving a dangerous swing, another involving children in a school playground. As such it is no surprise that the new director succeeds at very basic and simple action/reaction scenes. Sadly however, while Darkness comes to a conclusion, Oz's redemption from childhood to youth is never really seen or appreciated. Instead, audiences are left with a handsome and enlightened youth whose promise as an affective and politically conscious presence is spoiled in the beginning scenes of an older and wiser voice-over character. Editing is surely not one of Darkness' strong suits. Portman is keen on showing that violence and conflict have no age limits or boundaries; it is unwavering and unkind to gender and race. Wholeheartedly, A Tale of Love and Darkness attempts to show us the light. The unfortunate reality, however, is that the lights always seem to be turned off.

Reviewed by gisele-27273 12th September, 2015

an extraordinary debut. Memorable, haunting, beautiful and true.

This is a beautifully made film.Its slow pace at times matches with integrity the focus chosen by Portman, one of many interpretive avenues that could be pursued. I find it idiotic for critics to keep saying that "it's not like the book"or describe it as "dreary". I see it as a marvelous visual transcription, its development towards the end seemingly as inevitable as the last movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony. Portman recreated an entire era,offered original visual interpretations and the casting ( including her own acting) is memorable. I feel very lucky to have seen this movie before reading the book. I feel I can comprehend the movie on its own merits,and it will augment my appreciation of the book. It will be remembered as one of the best Israeli films based on great literature. An extraordinary debut for Natalie Portman.