Abulele

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Abulele
"Well designed for children aged around five to 12, with a good balance of sentiment, adventure and humour."

"Only children believe in monsters," we are told by adults in this film. Children are expected, even encouraged, to be afraid of them. But adults are often afraid in ways that it's difficult for children to understand. And for those children who struggle to fit in, sometimes monsters seem like natural allies.

Adam (Yoav Sadian) is a troubled ten-year-old. His older brother has died and although he tells his parents he's okay, in fact he's struggling at school, gets baited into fights and has no friends. He spends his free time playing alone in the bomb shelter beneath the block of flats where he lives, and it's there that he encounters a strange creature. At first it's terrifying, a shape in the dark, but as we all know from E.T., anything can be befriended with the help of sweet things, and after a couple of bottles of strawberry soda the two are playing together on the roof.

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So far, so simple, but both have other issues to contend with. Adam is threatened with a transfer to reform school by a frustrated teacher, and the creature - Abulele (by name and species) - is being hunted by an elite unit of the Israeli army. Whilst there's gentle comedy at the expense of the teacher, the latter circumstance generates some quite scary scenes that play rather differently inside Israel and outside, where the degree of militarisation in the film is itself disturbing. To cope with all this, our heroes must enlist the assistance of a mild-mannered janitor and a neighbour girl (Bar Minali) with a secret of her own.

Aside from the military presence - which is softened, to an extent, by the presence of an officer who doubts his commander's objectives - this is a story played out by the book. Like the soda, it's an acquired taste and will be too saccharine for some, but it's well designed for children aged around five to 12, with a good balance of sentiment, adventure and humour. It takes on issues of bereavement and family separation in a way that makes them accessible to young viewers, and the focus is on empowerment as Adam learns that he needs to stop thinking of himself as a victim if he is to exert control in his life.

Both Sadian and Minali turn in natural performances that suit the tone of the film well. Whilst the creature design is pretty basic, Sadian's work opposite Abulele helps to give the latter sufficient personality and charm. The swelling music gets a bit overwhelming in places but the visual design is crisp and clear and the overall style well suited to a young audience. The warm-heartedness of the whole production makes it easy enough for adults to like, and children who connect with it will want to watch it again and again.

Reviewed on: 15 Apr 2018
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Abulele packshot
A boy whose family is in crisis after his brother's death begins to put his life back together after meeting a friendly monster - but the monster may need his help.

Director: Jonathan Geva

Writer: Jonathan Geva

Starring: Yoav Sadian, Idan Barkai, Bar Minali, Makram Khoury, Nati Kluger, Micha Celektar

Year: 2015

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Israel

Festivals:

Glasgow 2017

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