A Portrait of Israeliness Never Before Seen in Film

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Yuval Segal and Ido Zaid in 'Indoors.' A moral point of departure.
Yuval Segal and Ido Zaid in 'Indoors.' A moral point of departure.Credit: Shai Goldman

“Indoors,” the seventh feature film of writer-director Eitan Green, is a movie about an Israeliness that dreams, aspires, insists, confronts, struggles and comes to the point of defeat, and it is Green’s best, most complex, complete and touching work to date. This is a version of Israeliness we have yet to see on the screen, tender and full of longing despite its hardships.

Green’s heroes usually experience a clash between their aspirations and the surrounding reality, and this clash shakes the foundations on which they planned to pursue their dreams. This is true of the heroine of “Lena,” Green’s 1980 debut picture, in which an immigrant from the former Soviet Union longs to assimilate into her new surroundings while her husband remains in prison in their old country. She is trapped between her own desires and her status as a Jewish icon alongside her imprisoned husband. Similar conflicts trouble Green’s other heroes — the Tel Aviv bar owner trying to put his life back together after running into personal and professional trouble (“Into the Night,” 1985); the avid basketball fan who finds meaning and purpose in his attachment to an American player on an Israeli team (“American Citizen,” 1992); the man trying to get a driver’s license to help his sick father but failing, time and again, because emotion floods him at the worst possible moments (“As Tears Go By,” 1996); the equipment manager at a film school who longs to make a movie of his own (“Henry’s Dream,” 2004); and the boy who struggles through an adolescence shadowed by a family tragedy (“It All Begins at Sea,” 2008). The one movie Green has made using someone else’s screenplay, the 50-minute1997 drama “The Marzipan Woman,” also fits the pattern, following the efforts of a young albino woman to find her place in society.

The same kind of clash between aspiration and reality shapes the story of Avraham Nawi (Yuval Segal), a contractor from Jerusalem. He and his wife, Dassi (Osnat Fishman), have a 14-year-old son, Doron (Ido Zaid), a high school student and talented basketball player. Theirs is a loving family, but Avraham’s relationship with Dassi is strained, and at the beginning of the movie she leaves on a long humanitarian mission to Romania. Dassi thinks that her husband aims too high and makes reckless decisions in running his business; she worries that his dreams of getting rich will put them at risk.

And indeed, Avraham, who built his wife and son a much larger house than the three of them need, is in serious debt, which only gets worse when an accident at his job site halts construction. He is hounded by creditors – not just the people he borrowed money from, but his now-unemployed workers, led by Salim (Jamil Khoury), Avraham’s friend and would-be partner, who like the others begins to demand what he is owed. The only source of help is Shmuel (Danny Steg), Avraham’s brother-in-law. A physical therapist raising two young daughters with his wife, Orna (Sharon Ingrid Shtark), who has become religious, Shmuel is even willing to let Avraham and his son move into his house.

A scene from 'Indoors.'Credit: Shai Goldman

Overflowing kindness

The greatest danger Avraham faces is that of losing the dream house he built for his family, and this focal point allows “Indoors” to become much more than the story of a cash-strapped contractor. Green’s movie paints the portrait of a husband and father, who despite his mistakes, is a good man, and his goodness is essential to the way Green follows him through the crisis and shapes the characters around him. “Indoors” might have focused on the price that a seemingly average Israeli pays for his ambition in a social reality that prioritizes financial success over all else. But it doesn’t, because Avraham is first and foremost a family man trying to provide what a family needs, which for him means the sheltering framework of a home, with all of its real and symbolic Israeli implications. When this home comes under threat, he and his loved ones are under threat, too.

Avraham, for all his shortcomings, is a good Israeli, and watching the movie you come to realize how rare it has become to see an Israeli film about that kind of man; a film whose overflowing kindness is both a main component of its hero and a message, perhaps a wish; a movie that has a clear moral point of departure, which is the source of its power and beauty.

Homes and families – private and collective, local and universal – are central to the narrative weave of “Indoors.” Their presence as well as their absence are constantly there in the way Green maneuvers his film from interiors to exteriors, which combine but also clash in his portrayal of a moral and practical existence that is also a blend of inside and outside. Houses that already exist, houses that are in the process of being built, rooms, doors, windows, a wide-open roof – all these are dominant in both the story and the visual design, and they establish similarities as well as differences, liberating characters but also trapping them. Shai Goldman’s excellent cinematography fulfills Green’s cinematic vision with skilled precision, and kudos are also due to Green’s meticuloususe of Yoni Rechter’s score, which accompanies and highlights the movie’s transitions between its different levels.

The most delicate, touching and lovely aspect of “Indoors” is Avraham’s relationship with his son, and this leads us to the cast, all of whom do excellent work. Yuval Segal plays Avraham with all the necessary restraint, while still allowing us to see passing flickers of thought and emotion. Danny Steg as Avraham’s brother-in-law once again shows himself to be a fine actor, who has not found in his previous films material that could demonstrate his talents: As Shmuel he is Avraham’s opposite, his loudness exposing his big heart. Finally, Ido Zaid is wonderful as Doron, his performance not only filled with the actor’s winning presence, but attesting to a deep understanding of the character and his role in the movie’s overall emotional tapestry. In other words, Zaid is not simply present; he acts. The rest of the cast are equally good, whether in big or small roles.

There is no good Israeli film that does not explore the nature of Israeliness itself, and “Indoors” adds to this ongoing debate the complexity, gentleness and moral stamina of Green’s distinctive cinematic vision. The excellent writing, direction and performances all make “Indoors” into a prominent and necessary new addition to Israeli filmmaking and Israeli culture in these uneasy times.

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