Venice 2014: Tsili

Director: Amos Gitai
Cast: Sara Adler, Adam Tsekhman, Meshi Olinski
Length: 88 mins
Country: Israel

Israeli director Amos Gitai’s film Tsili, screened out of competition in the Venice film festival, attempts to be a poetical allegorical drama, but ends up going nowhere. Gitai has entered seven feature films to both the Cannes and Venice film festivals between 1999 and 2011 to compete for the main prizes, and it is immediately telling that Tsili has not been selected for the competition this year. A film that is too long even for its 88 minutes, Tsili is underdeveloped and chaotic even for the most patient audience.

The screen erupts in poetic imagery right from the beginning of the film: we see a young woman in a white dress dancing against a back background to the sound of the violin, moving furiously and then swaying like the waves. This, as we learn from the following shots, is Tsili (Sara Adler), a Jewish woman trying to survive World War II hiding in the woods. Her routine of survival is interrupted by the arrival of Marek (Adam Tsekhman), who is also Jewish and needs shelter.

The two form truly a Stockholm-syndrome reminiscent bizarre relationship. Marek is imposing, questioning, attempting to tame her like an animal – and, after finally gaining her trust and erupting in proclamations of desire, raping her. However, after running away, Tsili returns, and the next thing we see is the couple blissfully sleeping together, Marek sheltering Tsili with his broad shoulders.

The story Gitai wants to tell deserves a better film.

I find this image truly problematic and frankly, I couldn’t get it out of my mind for the rest of the film. It reveals one of the key problems of Tsili: the sequences of shots do not lead anywhere, they are mere tableaus, offering us supposedly poetic glances at a panic-stricken existence in the woods, yet the scenes, instead of being poetic, are merely tedious and are not moving the narrative in any direction. And thus it is perhaps logical within this film that rape doesn’t seem to have consequences in the relationship between the characters, however awful this sentence may sound. The sequences and the images simply do not work as a film.

As if realising the issues of the first three quarters of the film, Gitai quickly squeezes text and storytelling into the last minutes of the film, resulting in lines, delivered blankly and bearing absolutist statements like “life has no meaning anyway, death will pursue us”. Tsili’s background story is introduced as an ominous narration and serves as a contradiction to the previously suggested sense of rootlessness; this story, introduced so late, does not really add anything to the film, and, sadly, cannot save it.

During this time, I started thinking that, perhaps, I have misunderstood the whole concept of the film, and Tsili is supposed to be a symbol of the Jewish people as a whole, her story being an allegory of inflicted violence and hatred to those who suffer in silence. It is a fine concept yet it does not come across in the film.

Tsili is a disappointment, wrestling overly used cultural tropes and non-functioning plot devices, rendering its 88 minutes of attempted visual poetry indeed quite hard to bear. The story Gitai wants to tell deserves a better film.

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