Wednesday 16 September 2009

TIFF 2009 - "Five Hours From Paris"

Given the country of its origin (Israel) and possibly also the non-issue that is the debate around the choice of Tel Aviv as the focus of the City to City programme at the festival (this film is not actually a part of that programme by the way), Leon Prudovsky prefaced the screening of his feature-length directorial debut by telling the audience that his story was not about war, politics or religion. It's about romance. Through the three part structure of the film (each part named after the characters), it achieves its goal in sweet and very charming fashion. By the end of the story, you've become so fond of the main chracters that you actually want a full scale cheesy-fireworks-in-the-sky ending.

Things are complicated when Yigal and Lina first meet though. He's a divorced father of a 12 year old boy and she's married to a Russian urologist studying in Canada. Yigal drives a cab and is about to embark on a business venture with his ex-wife's current husband, but is relatively meek in his daily life as evidenced by his son's detached indifference to him, his failed attempts at conquering his fear of flying and a constant feeling of loneliness. For her part, Lina has struggled through some of her own confidence issues. She'd always dreamed of being a concert pianist, but rationalized to herself that she preferred to teach children and so became a piano teacher instead. She volunteers at the opera as an usher and her unspoken regret is all over her face. It's in her capacity as Yigal's son's teacher that the two of them first meet.

Yigal is struck by her beauty (the man has good taste), but notices that she has a wedding ring and so does nothing more. Fortunately, the kids at school gossip and he hears that her husband actually ran away to Canada - so he gently starts to pursue her. An early sign that the film plays things a bit differently than standard romantic tales is one in which he insists on driving her back to the opera to pick up her phone. What any other story would likely have made a squirm inducing scene reflecting his desperation, this one turns into his first blush of success at reaching Lina. The rumours about her husband end up being untrue (she is actually preparing to eventually move to Canada to join him), but they've already begun a friendship so it continues at a leisurely pace and grows from there. The key to the film is these two main characters. They are realistic, very likeable and both hoping to enjoy life more than they currently are - it's just they aren't sure how to overcome their fears. These are people to whom anyone can relate and I found I simply enjoyed spending time with them, both when they were together and on their own.

The title of the film comes from the fact that Yisal's son's Bar Mitzvah is taking place soon in Paris. He desperately wants to be there and is trying to overcome his overwhelming fear of flying by visiting a psychiatrist. Both Yisal and Lina are somewhat stuck in their current ruts - neither overly passionate about their work or overall state of being, but also unwilling to take risks and preferring to live vicariously through others. Their relationship builds in a very natural way so that the romance grows from it. One of the best sequences in the film starts with a celebration of his first short flight (on which Lina joins him) with champagne and involves mice in her kitchen and Karaoke at a bar. Whether the film winds up with that particular cliche finale or not isn't for me to say here, but after spending an hour and a half with these characters you want to see their passions get re-ignited like those fireworks they truly deserve.

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