Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Love Trilogy: Chained (Eynayim Sheli)

LOVE TRILOGY:  CHAINED (Eynayim Sheli)      C+                  
Israel  Germany  (112 mi)  2019 ‘Scope  d:  Yaron Shani

The second of a three-part Love Trilogy, between Stripped and Reborn, using an unusual process where the actors, who have never studied acting, experience living the lives of their characters for a year, creating a strange dynamic meant to blur the line between fiction and real life, with many scenes being improvised, creating a raw and intense cinéma vérité effect.  These films aren’t sequential and may be viewed in any order, though there will be familiar narrative intersections.  Made by the co-director of AJAMI (2009), a joint Arab-Jewish collaboration seven years in the making that was a blistering piece of social realism winning the Camera d’Or at Cannes as the best first feature, using a cast of non-professionals, though the lead protagonist also appeared in that earlier film.  Not nearly as intense as AJAMI, this is more of an individual exposé, basically a slice of life closely following the life of Rashi (Eran Naim), a well-respected police officer with 16 years on the force, but a big, burly guy, an imposing physical force.  In early scenes, we can see he does his work diligently, carefully protecting two young brothers (one is concealed in a locked bathroom) from an abusive father, which ties into his role as an expectant parent, meeting his wife Avigail (Stav Almagor) for a routine pregnancy evaluation, horrified at the results, given perhaps the worst news possible, yet he tenderly consoles his distraught wife as they lose the baby.   While he and his wife appear to be on solid grounds, she has an attractive 13-year old daughter Yasmine (Stav Patay) who’s a handful, overly protected by her mother, growing more rebellious by the day, headstrong and stubborn, often appearing selfishly out of control.  Avigail is hesitant to implement guidelines or expectations to reign in her daughter’s behavior, thinking it’s just typical teenage stuff, so it only gets worse, with Yasmine pitting her more lenient mother against her more authoritative step-father, attempting to drive a wedge between them so she can get her own way.  While Rashi quickly sees this for what it is, Avigail less so, as she’s simply not the punitive type, continually giving her daughter plenty of room, particularly after the distressing medical results.  

Two incidents accelerate a quick decline in morale, one is a scheduled photoshoot with a photographer, as Yasmine has modeling aspirations, with Rashi, to her chagrin, sticking around to make sure nothing inappropriate happens.  She freaks out when he won’t leave, smothered by his presence, literally ordering him out the door, but he doesn’t budge.  When the photographer shows him pictures she brought suggesting what she had in mind, nothing risqué, but many are suggestively revealing, yet fairly typical of what kids see today in magazines, on television or on their computers.  Rashi simply doesn’t want to see her baring skin, so she has a conniption, throwing a fit, screaming at the top of her lungs, as she’s not getting her way, accusing Rashi of ruining her life, growing so out of control that he pulls the plug on the shoot and decides to take her home, protesting the entire way, claiming parental abuse.  The second is a police incident checking a group of young kids allegedly dealing drugs in the park, who quickly object to their bags being searched, so he subjects them to a strip search, discovering no hidden evidence.  The next day, however, the two kids that were searched file a sexual harassment complaint that makes the headlines, claiming they were inappropriately touched, with Rashi receiving word that the father of one of these kids is well connected in secret intelligence forces.  Internal Affairs officers arrive at their door early the next morning armed with a warrant, confiscating all computers, even those belonging to others, in their intrusive search for evidence of a crime.  The interrogation with Internal Affairs does not go well, as Rashi is insulted by their accusations and their attempt to bully and intimidate him, so he throws it back in equal measure, but he’s relieved of duty, with pay, until they complete the investigation, which could be anywhere from 5 days to a month, leaving him thoroughly demoralized afterwards, as they’ve wounded his pride.  Things don’t go well at home either, with Yasmine disobeying, staying out late, not revealing where she is, refusing to answer to anyone, forcing Rashi to use friends in the force to pick up her phone signal, discovering she’s with a group of friends drinking in the park, literally dragging her home kicking and screaming, with Yasmine screaming for him to get out of their life forever, refusing to live with him anymore, with Avigail deciding it might be better for him to leave for a few days, giving them some space.

Rashi has an overcontrolling nature that likely comes with being a policeman, but he doesn’t turn it off at home, becoming morally self-righteous and overly authoritative, believing he is the law even in his own home.  Where he could demonstrate greater flexibility with his family, his position remains fixed, refusing to listen, as he continually interrupts others, cutting them off in mid-sentence, always needing to have the final word on any given subject.  Avigail believes problems should be discussed and worked out, while Rashi is more of a right and wrong kind of guy, where talk is cheap, judging you by your actions.  While Yasmine is a self-centered drama queen, Rashi is just as much of a diva, always needing things to go his way to maintain the upper hand.  In this tug of war, Avigail is caught in between, but once Rashi leaves the home, it alters the balance.  First spending time with his parents, he’s caught off guard, not used to abiding by the rules of others, quickly moving into a hotel where his life sputters out of control, away from the police, away from his family, where it’s more difficult to find meaning in his life, becoming more desperate to reassert himself with his family, but they remain out of his reach.  Reduced to phone communication, it’s more difficult and unpredictable, forced into leaving voice messages, continually pressuring his wife to return, with Avigail continually extending the date, obviously afraid to reignite the original source of contention, for which she has no answers.  When Internal Affairs clears him to return to work, he’s still not allowed, based on that powerful voice within the department, leaving him in limbo.  As his life progressively deteriorates, the picture only grows more bleak, even as he hangs out with fellow members of the force after hours, clearly he’s not the same, consumed by humiliation, self-loathing and anguish, where it becomes more difficult to save face and pretend nothing is wrong.  The psychological descent from the more reasonable guy we see at the beginning is stunning, literally suffocating on his own toxic masculinity, like a disease growing inside him, feeling betrayed by both his family and his profession, leaving him out in the cold, growing more pathetic by the day.  This film exposes a deep psychological hole in modern Israel, a curious byproduct of manhood, which is a proving ground, where one demonstrates strength by decisiveness and moral acuity, not by going Rambo, but in learning how to integrate one’s values and beliefs within a family and community, which becomes a shared responsibility.  Rashi’s go-it-alone approach resembles a sinking ship, where he’s dug himself a dark pit of disgrace that he simply can’t crawl out of, believing there’s no escape, left with nothing to hold onto, his beliefs shattered, his confidence in shambles, his future grim. 

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