Last year, Manchester by the Sea showed that despite great tragedy, life goes on … and sometimes it can be funny (Manchester by the Sea ruminates on death by focusing on irony of life — a film review). During this year’s Miami Jewish Film Festival, there is a movie that deals with profound loss in a similar fashion. One Week and a Day (Shavua ve Yom), the debut feature by Israeli writer-director Asaph Polonsky, also deals with grief using humor. Though it’s hard to expect a light, nuanced hand like that of writer-director Kenneth Lonergan from a filmmaker’s debut full-length movie, the tension between grief and humor vibrates with lucid life in One Week and a Day. Some might think it heavy-handed, and sometimes the humor feels inconsistent, but like Manchester, it’s reflective the main character in mourning.
Eyal Spivak (Shai Avivi) is a taciturn middle-aged man, who seems a bit relieved that the shiva for his adult son, who succumbed to cancer, is over because he no longer has to suffer through condolences he considers insincere. When his and his wife’s (Evgenia Dodina) neighbors, the Zollers (Sharon Alexander and Carmit Mesilati Kaplan) show up at the door a day after the week-long period of mourning has ended, he has no qualms telling them their condolences are late.
This bitterness is born of a couple of reasons. First of all, he can hear the Zollers having loud sex from inside his house, but most of all, they still have their 20-something son (Tomer Kapon), who used to play with the deceased and has grown up to be a sushi delivery driver. However, Spivak ends up hanging out with this slacker, who he sees as having wasted his life, when he needs advice in rolling joints from the leftover bag of medical marijuana he snagged from the hospital while picking up the last bits of his dead son’s possessions.
The chemistry between these unlikely friends comes from something Spivak still needs: a son. He treats the young Zoller (they refer to each other by their last names) with little regard, but Zoller is not above kicking and stomping on his moped to fake an accident so he can smoke with Spivak. At first their relationship is all about the pot, but a deeper bond soon comes to light, especially after Zoller’s father tells Spivak to stop hanging out with his son. “He’s not a kid,” Spivak tells his neighbor. “But he’s mine,” responds the elder Zoller.
It’s an economical exchange typical of the film’s great humor. It’s both sad and funny while revealing the complicated relationship people have with family and friends during a time of emotional need. Shiva, after all is reserved for first-degree relatives. But what if one needs more than that? The young Zoller lost a friend as well. When the young man gives an epic one-take guitar solo jumping and undulating all over Spivak’s living room, he’s inviting the grieving father to also know the lost son just a little more (the film also features an impressive indie rock soundtrack by Tamar Aphek and Carusella).
For the most part, the film’s deadpan humor works, and Avivi plays the embittered mourner with a suffocated human warmth. As much as this man hates getting attention for the loss of his son, he strives to understand the value of life in the wake of such a great loss. The film isn’t perfect. There’s a bit of a tonal line crossing when the angry old man turns physically violent to Zoller’s mother, and editing-wise the film is a tad inconsistent. Besides the one-take air guitar scene and some impressive tracking shots at the cemetery, the film hardly rises above basic pacing. The timing of the acting and script, however, saves the film, so there’s some astute natural cinematic rhythm throughout. In the end, One Week and a Day reveals Polonsky as a strong new voice of the Israeli film scene.
One Week and a Day runs 98 minutes, is in Hebrew with English subtitles and is not rated. It has its official Florida premiere at the Miami Jewish Film Festival this Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m. at the Regal Cinema South Beach and plays again the following Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 6 p.m., at O Cinema Miami Shores. This writer originally caught the film ahead of its Key West Film Festival premiere, who provided a screener link for the purpose of judging ahead of the festival’s first annual critics prize.