‘The Flood (Babul)’ will be of interest to any moviegoer who likes ambitious, serious films

the-flood

The Flood (Mabul) is a new Israeli film, which won a Special Mention at the Berlin Festival, that is moving, gracefully made, well written and well acted on a grim subject: the sudden return of an autistic adolescent, who has spent more than a decade in an institution, to his troubled family.

It is so good that it will be of interest to any moviegoer who likes ambitious and serious films, although the casual viewer may find its honesty about how disability can exacerbate family conflict offputting.

But it is emphatically not what I like to call Prozac cinema – movies that are so pointlessly downbeat that you need an antidepressant to get out of your seat afterwards. That’s essentially because director/co-screenwriter Guy Nattiv has created realistic characters who have quirks, flaws and contradictions that will draw you into their lives and their story. I particularly applaud Nattiv and his co-writer Noa Berman-Herzberg for the dialogue they have written for Yoni (Yoav Rotman), a 13-year-old. The boy speaks to his parents with a weary mix of resentment and sarcasm, which is pitch perfect and will strike a chord with anyone who has ever had a chat with an adolescent (or who remembers what it was like to be one).

The Flood (Mabul) is a new Israeli film, which won a Special Mention at the Berlin Festival, that is moving, gracefully made, well written and well acted on a grim subject: the sudden return of an autistic adolescent, who has spent more than a decade in an institution, to his troubled family.

It is so good that it will be of interest to any moviegoer who likes ambitious and serious films, although the casual viewer may find its honesty about how disability can exacerbate family conflict offputting.

But it is emphatically not what I like to call Prozac cinema – movies that are so pointlessly downbeat that you need an antidepressant to get out of your seat afterwards. That’s essentially because director/co-screenwriter Guy Nattiv has created realistic characters who have quirks, flaws and contradictions that will draw you into their lives and their story. I particularly applaud Nattiv and his co-writer Noa Berman-Herzberg for the dialogue they have written for Yoni (Yoav Rotman), a 13-year-old. The boy speaks to his parents with a weary mix of resentment and sarcasm, which is pitch perfect and will strike a chord with anyone who has ever had a chat with an adolescent (or who remembers what it was like to be one).

Michael Moshonov won an Ophir Award for his performance as Tomer, the older teen whose return to his family home sets the story in motion. Even before he arrives on the scene, his presence hovers over the family, complicating everyone’s lives. In some ways, the Roshkos are typical. They live on a moshav and struggle to pay their bills. The parents’ marriage has disintegrated, but due to inertia and lack of money, they haven’t technically split up, although Gidi (Tzachi Grad) sleeps on the couch. He is a crop-duster pilot whose license has been suspended because he was caught smoking pot on the job.

Miri (Ronit Elkabetz) is a kindergarten teacher who likes to do flamenco dances with her charges and is having a fling with the father of one of her pupils.

The focus of the film is their brilliant son, Yoni, who makes pocket money selling homework he has done to the school bullies.

Undersized, Yoni is preparing for his bar mitzva, with justified anxiety about whether his parents can pay the rabbi for his lessons. He is exasperated by his parents but tolerates them. Then suddenly, it turns out that the institution where Tomer has lived is closing down.

Tomer is no Rain Man – he is low functioning, nearly non-verbal and heavily medicated, spending all his time staring at bugs he has collected. He can’t be left alone for a minute, and no one has any idea how to handle him. His return brings to the surface tension between the parents about the circumstances under which Tomer was sent to the institution. For Yoni, this bizarre brother is just one more strike against him. But a tenuous and credible bond develops between the brothers, as Yoni notices that Tomer, who can repeat any sound or word he hears, quickly learns Yoni’s entire bar mitzva Torah portion after hearing it once in a recorded version. Not coincidentally, the portion is about Noah’s ark, the flood and the corruption of the earth. This symbolism could seem heavy handed, but somehow Nattiv pulls it off.

Critics are not supposed to prejudge the movies they review but we are human, and I have to admit I was dreading this film.

That’s because I have an autistic adolescent son and am generally appalled by the inaccurate treatment of autism in movies. But here, the director has barely sanitized the subject at all: This is as close to the truth as you can possibly put on film. It joins the Australian movie The Black Balloon, which also tells the story of two siblings, one autistic and one not, as the best film I’ve seen that deals with a low-functioning autistic person (not a savant like the Dustin Hoffman character in Rain Man, who speaks in full sentences and has genius abilities in many areas). Sadly, this film also tells an unfortunate Israeli truth: Many families receive little or no support – financial, psychiatric or social — that would enable them to care for their autistic children well at home.

Nattiv’s first feature film, Strangers, showed potential, and in The Flood, he has more than delivered on that promise. Subscribe to our Newsletter to receive news updates directly to your email

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