Talent Shines Through in Israeli Director's Debut '10% My Child'

Uri Bar-On's film has occasional charm and creates sympathy despite its limitations.

10% My Child Written and directed by Uri Bar-On; with Udi Persi, Yali Friedman, Vered Feldman, Gur Bentwich, Idan Alterman, Efrat Ben Yaakov

The film “10% My Child,” the first long feature of Uri Bar-On, is the kind of movie that arouses sympathy, but not much interest. Sympathy is nothing trivial in itself, but without interest to go along with it, the result is a film that leaves behind no enduring impression. In the movie’s publicity materials, Bar-On writes that he wanted to shatter the stereotype of the evil stepparent, a fairy-tale element that still has a hold on our imagination today (Bar-On mentions Richard Linklater’s 2014 “Boyhood,” whose depiction of stepfathers does little to lessen the stigma). In today’s reality, Bar-On argues, debunking this negative stereotype has become especially important, as more and more traditional families dissolve, leading to new unions and new stepparents.

I don’t know how menacing the image of a parent or stepparent really is; I can’t imagine that many now see Cinderella’s stepmother as a prototype for stepparents everywhere (perhaps we should start by doing away with the prefix “step-”). Bar-On writes that his wish to challenge the stereotype grew out of his relationship with the daughter of a woman he loved, and I respect the need he felt. However, while I was watching “10% My Child,” what seemed to me central was not the stereotype in question at all, but rather the account of the relationship that forms between a strange man and a girl whose circumstances push her, reluctantly at first, to spend time with a person who might well become a permanent fixture in her life. If there is one central problem with “10% My Child,” it is that the story of these two people and their growing bond is never other than amiable and does not venture into more complex narrative and emotional terrain, which might have given the relationship – and the movie as a whole – greater substance and depth.

At the age of 26, Nico (Udi Persi) is still searching for his way. He went to film school and wants to make movies, but his final project is stuck – and so is the rest of his life. He first meets 7-year-old Franny (Yali Friedman) when she walks in on him and her mother in bed – not an auspicious beginning. The decision to name the heroine “Franny” attests to Bar-On’s admiration for author J.D. Salinger, who is mentioned in the movie; Franny was the youngest daughter of the Glass family, on which much of Salinger’s small oeuvre was based, and she gave her name to a short story that, along with the novella “Zooey,” made up the famous 1961 “Franny and Zooey.” Bar-On’s respect for Salinger and his desire to show the author’s influence on him are admirable, and I would hardly expect a debut picture like this one to match the uniqueness and complexity of Salinger’s work. The mention of Salinger, however, only emphasizes the basic, minimal nature of Bar-On’s film.

Most of the story follows Nico as he spends time with Franny, having been asked by his girlfriend, her mother, to take care of her, and we see their relationship evolve from initial hostility to affection. This plot trajectory is predictable, which would not be a problem in itself if only the sections making up this development could give it any kind of distinction. Some scenes are good, others less so; some are original, others seems like too many other scenes from previous movies about the bond between an adult and a child. The result follows a single path too consistently. Persi and Friedman give skilled performances, but their skill responds to the limitations of the movie, rather than diverging from it in surprising ways.

For all my reservations, however, Bar-On’s first movie deserves to succeed, because of its occasional charm and the way it manages, at its best moments especially, to create that sympathy in us. Still, there is an elementary feel to the movie, which at times brings to mind a promising film-school graduation project.

I have a soft spot for movies that are produced independently, like this one, which took Bar-On five years to make. There are more and more instances of this here, and it is a positive phenomenon worth encouraging. Too bad, then, that with a little more thinking, the final product might have been better, richer, and more complex. But I am hopeful about Bar-On, mainly because in the press kit he writes that in his next movie, for which he is now raising the money, he intends to tell the tormented life story of the Polish author Marek Hlasko, whose best known book, “The Eighth Day of the Week,” became a movie, and who in the late 1950s came to Israel, though he did not find peace here, either. As one who remembers Hlasko, his art and his visit to Israel, which was reported in the local press, this sounds to me like a fine idea, and I hope to see it come to fruition soon.