Laila In Haifa

**

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Laila In Haifa
"The themes attach themselves like lead to each exchange, giving everything a theatrical quality and rendering character development so bland that no amount of roving camera can offset the airless result." | Photo: Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

Bars can provide melting pots for films, bringing together people of different politics, backgrounds and creeds but ironically, despite this being the setting for Amos Gitai's latest film, the whole thing could do with a stiff drink or two to loosen up. The bar in question is frequented by both Palestinians and Israelis, straights and gays, and is a sprawling joint that offers everything from art gallery space to a stage - it is, in fact, so big that it stops any sort of cohesive vibe bringing the film together as the background ambience often jarringly shifts between scenes, although allegedly all the conversations, save brief forays to the car park, are set within its walls.

Nobody has what might be considered an idle conversation here, as Gitai and his co-writer Marie-Jose Sanselme have no time for the fripperies of what should amount to bar talk. Instead, the themes attach themselves like lead to each exchange, giving everything a theatrical quality and rendering character development so bland that no amount of roving camera can offset the airless result.

Barely anything here feels lived in. Take, for example, the opening in which Israeli photographer Gil (Tsahi Halevi) is set upon and beaten up in the car park. Despite telling gallery publicist Laila (Maria Zreik) he can barely walk, moments later the pair of them are enjoying a steamy and risky sex session that could have been plucked from the Male Fantasy Playbook.

Heart-to-hearts also spring up like mushrooms from nowhere and the dialogue feels dry and dusty, with that presented in English particularly stilted. Other characters come and go - Naama (Naama Preis), Gil's sister, and bar worker Khawla (Khawla Ibraheem) both have marital problems while a blind date doesn't go as planned for Hannah (Hana Laslo). None of these people make much of a mark, feeling more as though they're there to check off a talking point than as people in their own right. Despite occasional moments of nice camerawork, the film feels aimless, with Gitai never striking a decent rhythm, so that we are only left to marvel how something with so many moving parts can seize up so badly.

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2021
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Laila In Haifa packshot
The interwoven stories of five women are told over the course of a fateful night in a Haifa club.

Festivals:

Venice 2020

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