The real life surrounding the TV miniseries “Douze Points” is absurd enough to create a comedy far better than the one that hit the screens the other day. When it emerged that the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest would be held in Israel, a script landed at public broadcaster Kan for a comedy centering around the French contestant: a slender, young, blond, Muslim gay man. He gets blackmailed by Islamic State operatives in Paris, who plan a spectacular terror attack during the Eurovision final, but of course terribly funny Mossad agents get in the way and in the end love conquers all.
When Hassani was chosen and the French broadcasting corporation heard that “Douze Points” would be aired sometime before Eurovision, it threatened to boycott the event. The European Broadcasting Union had to explain to Kan the huge difference between a comedy that amuses Israelis and one that insults French people and talks about a terror attack on Eurovision.
Not long before the competition, Kan folded and agreed to broadcast the show only after the contest. In the meantime, there were fears that Hamas would ruin Eurovision with a rocket attack; the entire country fretted over whether a cease-fire would happen before the first semifinal on May 14. Well, in the end, everything went swimmingly, so then it came time for “Douze Points.”
You missed it? Don’t worry, the three episodes are on YouTube, but you’ll be better off skipping it.
Crude and unrestrained
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The main feeling during the 90-plus minutes is embarrassment, which begins instantly and only increases. It increases so much that it’s hard to know which is worse, the stilted script or the uneven acting.
The stars top one another in comedic fumbling: Itzik Cohen as a fanatic and homophobic Muslim patriarch, Mali Levi as a seductive and belligerent Mossad agent, Tal Friedman as a hapless, self-important Mossad bureaucrat addicted to carbs, to mention just a few.
Cohen’s performance is an extreme parody of the Friday Arabic movie that used to be on Israeli TV. Levi has a hard time understanding what she’s supposed to do, so she models clothes and gives speeches. Friedman simply makes it up as he goes along, as if he decided to leave all his tremendous talent at home. Shani Klein puts in a crude and unrestrained performance as a crude and unrestrained PR woman; it’s a part splendidly ill-written.
The only one who evades this embarrassment is Adel Dejami, a French actor who plays TJ, a rapper who sold his soul to the devil of pop and became the French representative. He’s the only one whose role isn’t comic, for the most part. Somehow, for a few brief moments, he stirs some empathy, but we aren’t watching to feel sorry for anyone, we’re watching to enjoy ourselves.
I tried but with no success. The series’ most comically brilliant moment belongs to the soundtrack. People with sharp ears can hear traces of “Toy” – the song that won Eurovision 2018 for Israel – in the piano-playing that provides suspenseful background music. This works wonderfully well. For about 15 seconds.
Behind the script are a number of excellent insights into Israeli cynicism and the gap between reality and the enlightened image our country tries to create for itself as an island of normalcy, inclusiveness and acceptance of the other as long as he’s in the category of “gays and tourists.” When there’s some physical brawling between members of the French delegation, the PR woman – whose name is Tzionit (female Zionist) – barks in garbled English that this isn’t a war zone.
At a certain key moment TJ and his boyfriend Russell, who’s actually Rassoul, are in festive Arab robes and headdresses on a surfboard against the backdrop of a sunset at a Tel Aviv beach. It’s one of the Eurovision video “postcards” that precede every song. Yet even this winds up a missed opportunity, part of the overall amateurism.
If there happens to be a scene with good potential, like the comic chase in which a roly-poly Mossad guy on a scooter tries to stop a terrified terrorist, it’s followed by several awful minutes that make you forget it.
The director’s invisible hand is evident here, and not in a good way. This is especially disappointing because Daniel Syrkin – who also edited the script – has a number of proven successes to his credit, among them “Hallelujah,” a comedy about the 1979 Eurovision, “The Gordin Cell,” a wonderful spy series,” and “Stockholm,” a fine work of comedy.
But this time the Eurovision scenes provide a feeling of meagerness, the feeling that there was only one camera, and in very uncertain hands. There’s Cohen’s exaggerated acting and Levi’s meh performance – and a script so full of stereotypes that it’s hardly suitable for a commercial. All this fuels embarrassment until it becomes a physical sensation: discomfort and a tremendous desire to close your eyes and cover your ears.
The sole consolation after the exhausting viewing is that for the next 20 years or so, Eurovision isn’t expected to be held in Israel. So we’re exempt both from the event and comedies based on it.