A Strange Course of Events Directed by Raphael Nadjari; written by Raphael Nadjari, Geoffrey Grison; with Ori Pfeffer, Moni Moshonov, Michaela Eshet, Bethany Gorenberg
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Reality in the films of Raphael Nadjari is that of an off-kilter routine, as we can see in his third Israeli feature, “A Strange Course of Events,” which was first screened during the Directors’ Fortnight at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Nadjari also made a wide-ranging documentary about the history of Israeli filmmaking, and before his Israeli features he directed three movies in the United States. Of the three pictures he has made in Israel – the first two were “Avanim” in 2004 and “Tehilim,” which competed at Cannes as an official selection in 2007 – “A Strange Course of Events” might seem to be the lightest. Some will probably claim that the story is too thin, that nothing happens, that the protagonists end up in the same place where they began. But that, to me, accounts for the charm of Nadjari’s film, which like his previous movies, shows the impact of the cinematic modernism that challenged traditional film narratives.
Whereas in both his previous Israeli movies some dramatic event set the plot in motion (a terrorist attack in “Avanim,” a car accident in “Tehilim”), there is no such event in Nadjari’s new film. Like other Israeli movies of recent years – such as Eran Kolirin’s “The Exchange,” Gur Bentwich’s “Up the Wrong Tree” or “Off-White Lies,” directed by Maya Kenig (who gives a good performance as an actress in Nadjari’s film) – “A Strange Course of Events” is a portrait of an Israeli masculinity that exists in an existential void of disconnection.
Shaul (Ori Pfeffer) is a 30-something divorced father with a daughter. His life is stuck in place, and he moves through his days in a constant state of gloom. Shaul works as a night nurse at a Tel Aviv health clinic, and for some reason, which is never explained – because people in Shaul’s situation don’t always do things out of a sense of purpose – he decides to visit his father, Shimon (Moni Moshonov), in Haifa. Although they have not met in five years, energetic Shimon welcomes his son as though they had only just seen each other. Shaul gets an even more enthusiastic reception from Bathy (Michaela Eshet), the woman with whom Shimon has lived since his wife died. Bathy owns a store selling energetic crystals at the same Haifa mall where Shimon works; she is all spiritual zeal of a cheery, somewhat disturbing kind. One of the most accurate insights the movie manages to convey is that Shimon and Bathy’s delight in seeing Shaul – Shimon after a long estrangement, Bathy for the first time – is actually a sign of apathy and emotional indifference. They are so happy to see him that you have to wonder if they care at all.
“A Strange Course of Events” has an interesting connection to Nadjari’s previous film, “Tehilim.” Whereas the earlier movie followed a mother and her two sons as they grappled with the mysterious disappearance of the father at the beginning of the story – a mystery that the film never solved, since what interested Nadjari was not the answer but how people dealt with the situation – the new picture shows us a father being rediscovered by his son. The discovery, however, does little to help the son in his various predicaments. “A Strange Course of Events” follows the two days Shaul spends in Haifa; during these days, we get to meet his daughter, and Shaul himself undergoes a series of adventures, some of them embarrassing and even comic. Still, despite the wry humor that pervades the movie, there is also a sense of melancholy, and Nadjari is careful not to overstep in either direction, leaving both as part of the mundane everyday, which he portrays as not only out of kilter, but fragile and broken.
Images of fracture appear in the movie several times, both concretely and symbolically, and the narrative itself, which sometimes skips over certain stages, creates the sense of a fractured life, a life that has lost the continuity it was supposed to have. The tone of “A Strange Course of Events” also shifts sharply, adding to the sense of a reality that hangs semi-sideways. This might prove problematic for viewers who like their narratives continuous and logical, but if you think about it, that isn’t what life is like, is it?
“A Strange Course of Events” is ultimately an allegory of existential disconnection. Rather than use this theme as the basis for a momentous drama, the movie chooses, conversely, to insert that disconnection into ordinary existence. It does so gently, almost matter-of-factly, situating it between the dismal and the entertaining, and between everyday routine and experiences that will never fit smoothly into it.
Not everything works in Nadjari’s film, and some of his plot solutions seemed to me unnecessary precisely because they were too explicit. On the whole, however, “A Strange Course of Events” is a work of intelligent filmmaking that owes its power, among others things, to its seeming simplicity. The entire cast does good work, and kudos are due especially to Michaela Eshet for a charming performance that manages also to make us a bit uneasy, thus representing the emotional twilight zone in which the entire story takes place.