Time Of Favor


Reviewed by: Nicky Falkof

A love story/thriller set amongst the religious Jews of a settlement near Jerusalem was always going to be a fascinating proposition. As a bird's eye view into a little seen, but much discussed, community, Time Of Favor definitely works. Without the setting it would have little to offer. This is a perfect example of some fairly standard cinematic cliches being invigorated by a new perspective.

Menachem (Aki Avni) is the charismatic and deeply moral leader of Company D, an Israeli army battalion, made up of the best of the yeshiva (religious school) students. The company is the brainchild of Rabbi Meltzer (Assi Dayan), a man branded "fanatic" by the security services for his emphasis on rebuilding the Temple, the sacred site of Judaism, which just happens to be located at the same spot as one of Islam's holiest mosques. Meltzer has earmarked Menachem's friend Pini (Idan Alterman), a diabetic and brilliant scriptural scholar, as the husband-to-be of his daughter Michal (the bizarrely-named Tinkerbell). But Menachem and Michal are in love, and she refuses Pini outright.

Much of the initial plot is taken up with Menachem's struggle - can he hurt his friend and disobey his rabbi to be with the women he loves? - but soon Pini's rejection takes centre stage, as the physically challenged genius decides to take matters, both personal and political, into his own hands.

Deriding Menachem for his weakness, Pini manipulates another friend, a member of Menachem's company, into stealing explosives from the army. Making sure to frame Menachem for his actions, Pini then sets off to blow up the Dome of the Rock and set the stage for the rebuilding of the Temple. Before he leaves, he tells Michal of his plans, and she runs directly to the security services. Menachem is arrested while on a manoeuvre; his lover, his friends and those in power are all convinced he's behind the plot. He must use his knowledge of Pini's movements and thought processes to stop his friend carrying out an action that could destroy any chance of peace in the Middle East, but first he must convince the others to trust him. Beaten, broken and desperate, Menachem's strength of character is his only hope.

This particular world-shaking conflict is difficult to portray filmically without attracting the rage of one side or another. In this, Time Of Favor is particularly effective; there is no Palestinian presence in the film at all, which actually works to its advantage. Rather than try to understand both sides of the conflict, writer/director Joseph Cedar focuses solely on the Israelis and the divisions between them, and even closer, on the divisions between religious Jews in a settlement. It's a welcome angle. Too often this particular situation is reduced to black and white, Israelis and Palestinians, as if there can be no shadings of grey within those racial groupings.

Rather than engage with the rightness or wrongness of the Israeli position - an important question, of course, but difficult to answer in an hour and a half - the film gives life, colour and moral variation to a people often portrayed as monolithic in their agreement.

It's difficult for this reviewer, having been brought up a fairly observant Jew, to say how sympathetic or otherwise the portrayal of the religious ritual is. What it unquestionably does is image a form of Judaism not often seen in cinema - not the New York therapy-addled Woody Allen version, the limping World War II version, the old age/old country praying version, or the conflicted Israeli version, but the all-singing holiday camp/kibbutz atmosphere of the new, young religious right. Rabbi Meltzer's boys are portrayed honestly; neither their youth, nor the very slight, if highly troubling, fanatical tinge is overlooked, or polished.

Performances are excellent. From the corpulent rabbi to the sweating, violent security man, these characters - particularly the smaller ones - are rounded, believable and sympathetic. Only Pini, with his sudden change from man of letters to man of bombs, after he finds out about Michal and Menachem, is slightly forced. None of these actors are particularly beautiful. Michal is no femme fatale and Menachem no great muscles hero, which only adds to their poignancy and the truth of their story. The very normalcy of the performers, coupled with gritty lighting and unfussy camera technique, keeps this streets away from the glossiness we often expect on screen.

The basic plot device - good guy turns bad and tries to blow stuff up because he found out his best friend is with the woman who turned him down - is worthy of a cheap comic book adaptation. It is, however, the weakest thing in the film, which manages to engage with a difficult setting and subject both sensitively and intelligently.

Well worth a look.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2006
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Love, loss and betrayal in a religious Jewish community.
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Director: Joseph Cedar

Writer: Joseph Cedar

Starring: Aki Avni, Tinkerbell, Idan Alterman, Assi Dayan, Micha Selektar, Amnon Volf, Shimon Mimran, Uri Klausner

Year: 2000

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Israel


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