Invisible
Ronit Elkabetz and Evgenia Dodina in "Invisible."
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The conscious and existential status of two Israeli women lies at the center of "Invisible" ("Lo Roim Alaich" ), the first nondocumentary film by the director Michal Aviad, who has created several laudable documentaries, including "The Women Next Door," "Ever Shot Anyone?" and "Jenny and Jenny." I define "Invisible" as a nondocumentary film and not as a feature film since it doesn't only walk the line between feature cinema and documentary cinema, but is fashioned from a documentary sensitivity.

Throughout "Invisible," I felt I was watching a feature film that was directed as a documentary film. Aviad and Tal Omer, who wrote the screenplay with her, did well to choose a name that carries meaning in the feature context of the film, but also touches on the act of seeing, perception, interpretation and understanding.

This is the story of Nira (Evgenia Dodina ), a researcher and film editor, who in the course of preparing an article about left-wing activists in the territories meets Lily (Ronit Elkabetz ), who seems familiar to her. She then recollects that, in the late '70s, she saw Lily following a police lineup that was conducted for the victims of a rapist who was being sought in Israel (whom the media had nicknamed "the polite rapist" or "the elegant rapist" ).

Nira, a single parent to an 11-year-old girl, makes contact with Lily, the mother of a soldier and a slightly older daughter; her marriage to Amnon (Gil Frank ) is in crisis. Lily is disinclined to share Nira's attempt to revisit the past. Lily is a woman who is at once strong and wounded. Aside from her political activity, she works as a movement instructor. She has never properly dealt with what happened in her own past, if it is at all possible to handle such an event, and Nira is the same.

Each of these two different women deal with their inability to deal in different ways, which in the course of this smart and decent film by Aviad, will blend together into a united path, which will contain the tensions and the inherent contradictions of their psychology, consciousness and humanity.

The two women present an image that is right for them but which exposes and at the same time conceals what is happening within them. Nira seems to be more open, more direct in her contact with her surroundings; but she has never married and apparently did not want to marry, either. It is Nira, through her contact with Lily, who drives the plot of the film, which derives in part from Nira's realization that she remembers too little of what happened when she was raped and does not know enough about what happened in the subsequent investigation; all of which means that she has not dealt with the event that has, to a certain degree, shaped her life.

Lily seems to be more dragged in Nira's wake, but in the case of these two women, who experienced rape, being dragged is a physical action no less than Nira's activeness. Aviad, who is using actors in a film for the first time, and who demonstrates an impressive ability to work with them, was wise to give the role of the more introverted woman to Elkabetz, an actress who usually expresses intense strength, and not to Dodina, with her softer, more delicate look. The work of both actresses is outstanding, precise and convincing.

There is a genuine sense of connection between them, and it becomes heartrending and emotional as the film develops. This connection to some degree atones for several limitations in the screenplay, which come to the fore toward the film's end. Nevertheless, in a very good scene that appears near the end, Nira and Lily are photocopying a big pile of documents related to their case, while behind them a gang of men gathers, waiting to use the copier. There is nothing violent or aggressive in the scene, but its design raises a sensation of abstract threat that serves as a conclusion of sorts to what has happened in the entire film.

Innerness exposed

"Invisible" is not a film about rape. It does contain didactic aspects that relate to the police attitude to the acts of rape that are documented. It quotes from statements by the psychologist who treated the victims and also from statements by judges insensitive to the victims' emotions, and their statements succeed in shocking us. But as much as possible, the film endeavors to tone down its didactic side. Its purpose is to look closely at the innerness of the film's two heroines and translate their innerness into cinematic observation coming from without. In other words, Aviad tries to do practically the hardest thing of all - shining a light on reality such that its innerness is revealed to the viewers.

Good documentary films do this, and with "Invisible" Aviad tries to apply this technique in the context of a feature film that also uses documentary devices. Most of the time she succeeds in producing respectable and impressive results from this lofty aspiration.

Many films have been made that deal with rape. Most are films that protest the establishment's attitude toward rape victims. Some portray the rape, while others do not. Aviad's film differs from them in that it does not aspire to be a manifesto, but rather a testimony of the contemporary moment that is built on the basis of its past.

Compliments also go to cinematographer Guy Raz, whose work is well-matched to Aviad's vision. He shoots Tel Aviv, the location in which the film takes place, mainly at night, without prettifying the place. Through the lens of his camera, it becomes an urban set that is familiar and ordinary, but at the same time conceals behind its almost-symbolic facade something caged and threatening.