Original title: Barash
D: Michal Vinik / 85m
Cast: Sivan Noam Shivon, Hadas Jade Sakori, Dvir Benedek, Irit Pashtan, Amit Muchtar, Bar Ben Vakil, Hila Gozlan, Einav Levi, Reut Akkerman
Naama (Shivon) is a typical Israeli teenager, living a different life from the one her parents (Benedek, Pashtan) believe she lives. Away from her home – where she’s something of a moody presence – Naama spends time with her best friends, Iris (Gozlan) and Lili (Levi), taking drugs and having casual sex with random boys. Her parents are more concerned with her older sister, Liora (Vakil), who’s a secretary in the Army, but who it soon transpires, has run off with her latest boyfriend. While the search for Liora escalates, Naama meets Dana (Sakori), a confident free spirit who she finds herself attracted to. The two become friends, and soon Dana is introducing Naama to the nightclub scene in Tel Aviv. Naama and Dana become lovers, but what is a serious development for Naama, appears to be less so for Dana, whose past hints at her having unresolved issues that threaten their relationship. When a trip to Tel Aviv takes an unexpected turn, Naama is forced to confront both the reality of her relationship with Dana, and her new-found sexuality…
A frank and appealing exploration of racial, sexual and political tensions in modern-day Israel, Michal Vinik’s debut feature (which she also wrote) is a movie that tells a familiar tale but with an edge that’s borne out of its setting and the parochialism of Naama’s social background. It’s a movie that avoids depicting easy sentimentality or indulging in melodramatic flourishes, and which subverts audience expectations in often clever and unexpected ways. One such occasion occurs when Naama, high on a drug whose effects will last for several hours, is given no choice but to accompany her mother on a trip to the military base where Liora is stationed. What feels like an opportunity for some embarrassing comedy at Naama’s expense, instead leads to an outpouring of rage at an unsuspecting (and inflexible) guard that is a perfect representation of the anger and frustration that Naama feels in her own life. So extreme is this outpouring that her mother can only stand and watch, unable to intervene. Elsewhere, Vinik casts an acerbic eye over a family dynamic that includes a father whose hatred of Palestinians is all-consuming, and a rebellious older sister whose personal liberation comes at the expense of her cultural heritage.
For much of the movie, this family dynamic, with its roiling undercurrents of inter-personal animosity, is the movie’s trump card, and easily more interesting than the somewhat standardised coming-of-age tale that sits at its centre. Though Naama is a wonderfully realised character – thanks to Shivon’s tough, unsparing efforts – and her sexual awakening is handled with a delicacy that’s at odds with the jarring discomfort of the social conventions she’s expected to adhere to, there’s still the feeling that we’re in much charted territory, even down to the inevitable betrayal that lies ahead of her. To offset this, Vinik employs Shai Peleg’s sharply composited cinematography to present a world that is both familiar and alien, and even to its protagonists. Often the frame teems with details that can be easily missed, visual cues that point to the stability of Naama’s emotional state. There are terrific performances from all concerned, with Shivon a standout as Naama, Benedek proving an uncompromising bull-like presence, and Pashtan quietly impressive as Naama’s mother, her passive body language and blank expressions hiding the kind of emotional intensity that has been repressed for far too long. In the end, it’s not the sadness of Naama’s failed romance that resonates, but the idea that it’s her mother’s life that is the future she’s locked into.
Rating: 8/10 – a mixture of the bold and the commonplace (dramatically speaking), Blush offers a fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of an average Israeli family and the challenges faced when trying to be different; full of telling moments and deft directorial touches that add poignancy to an otherwise familiar tale of burgeoning sexual expression, this is finely tuned for the most part, and with a well-defined vibrancy that makes it all the more engaging.