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Natalie Portman has made her directorial debut with “A Tale of Love and Darkness”, a faithful – perhaps too faithful – adaptation of Amos Oz’ bestselling novel. Niels Putman reports from Nisimazine at Cannes.

a.-A-tale-of-love-and-darknessIt’s all about telling stories: a motto which could certainly apply to Cannes and cinema in general, but that also heavily relates to Natalie Portman’s directorial debut based on the bestselling novel by Israeli Amos Oz. A Tale of Love and Darkness is the memoir of his childhood, which Portman, who was born in Israel herself, lends her heart, but fails in offering more soul.

Tale of Love and Darkness is set in Jerusalem at the end of World War II against the backdrop of the last days of the Mandate Palestine, the geopolitical entity that was under British administration until the newborn state of Israel was founded in 1949. Changing political weather clearly shapes the world in which Amos, through whose eyes the story is being told, grows up. The duality of things, quite clearly stated in the title of the film, is tangible in every aspect of life (and the film).

Cannes-2015-la-critique-de-A-Tale-of-Love-and-DarknessIsraeli-American actress Natalie Portman has been very passionate about bringing Oz’s story to the screen. She not only wrote, directed and produced it, but also portrays his caring but ill mother Fania who loves telling stories to her son. The parables she passionately narrates get visualized and are given an even broader meaning and sometimes more persuasive impact than their literary counterpart can offer. The moment his mother’s condition is starting to get worse, she stops telling him stories and Amos realizes things are going wrong.

Remembering things is like building a place up by its ruins. Portman’s film (and therefore Oz’s book) is indeed a tale about love and darkness, yet its thematic content changes focus along the way. Lost childhood, motherly love and childlike innocence are all profoundly featured, but what truly resonates is the statement about the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Amos Oz is known to be a strong advocate of a two-state solution to the problem and delivers a strong declaration about it: stating that even though siblings may have the same abusive father, that doesn’t make them allies per se. Read: “Although Europe colonized the Arabs and murdered the Jews, that doesn’t result in them getting along”. Portman bravely keeps Oz’s message alive.ataleofloveanddarkness-xlargeAlbeit Portman’s good-willing heart, she doesn’t succeed in fleeing from the book. You can almost hear the pages being turned as the film goes on. Told from the perspective of the older version of Amos, a voice-over is used, lending her the opportunity to have a philosophical wind interwoven through the different stages of his life. Therefore the film gets very lyrical, sometimes giving the audience too much to take in. The coloring, often monochromatic, feels detached and the frequent fades effortlessly tone down every sense of pace or rhythm. We get the facts and the attempted emotion, yet the overpowering structure of the film fails to deliver more.

Portman has delivered a very serious film about the striking conflicts that are still on going in her home country. Her adaptation is classic, but cohesive and credent, but highly respectful.  Her debut doesn’t come along with great cinematic qualities, but her effort in shining a light on the issue is a significant and earnest one. She understands it’s all about telling stories.

This article was originally written by Niels Putman for the Cannes Nisimazine workshop. Visit nizimazine.org for more film festival content. 


Article produced in the context of a Nisimazine workshop. For more information please visit our website at www.nisimazine.org.

Posted on May 23, 2015

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