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Comedy is tragedy plus time. So said one of Woody Allen's Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989)'s main characters. All the little incidents of life always seem like big deals when you are in the midst of things, but over time, you can look back fondly on them and even laugh at them. Time puts a new perspective on almost anything. Jewish humor is a strange beast as it often focuses on the absurd and the immediate trauma, but gives a perspective that makes the event comical, even if it is immediately sad. Nina's Tragedies (2003) is an example of such movies where you can't help but feel sad or melancholic throughout, with several genuine smiles sprinkled on, only to be emotionally delivered at the end by an event that makes everything truly ok, and in restrospect, really funny.
Nadav (Aviv Elkabeth) is a boy on the verge of puberty who has the hots for his aunt Nina (Ayelet Zorer), a gorgeous woman who leads a troubled life with an abusive husband that everybody in the family pretty much hates. He spies on her, watches her through the window during intimate moments and so on. In fact, he even writes a fairly ellaborate journal where he chronicles his entire surroundings in details. One day, Nina's husband dies in a roadside attack and her world breaks down. She sees her dead husband everywhere and feels like she is going crazy. Nadav is all too pleased to go to her home to keep her company regularely. At the same time, Nadav's father rediscovers Judaism and decides to leave to join a Yeshiva. Amidst all these little day-to-day tragedies, the family remains strongly bound together and the little joys of life combine to make everybody fairly happy in the end. It's bitter-sweetness Jewish style.
The movie is so strong in communicating the basic contradictions of daily life: life is hard, full of tragedies, but nevertheless, it is worth living with all its little joys, funny absurdities, family and friends. The messsage of the movie is to focus on the positive aspects of every day, and not dwell on the difficulties. It's about overcomming grief and getting back to life. It's also a comming of age story where we see Nadav getting his emotional education watching all his crazy family love and fight one another all at the same time. The movie is completely told from his perspective, as he writes in his journal. He is surprisingly mature and sharp with his observations. He also develops quite a talent for writing, and the journal becomes, albeit late, a centerpiece of his relationship with his father. Throughout its themes, it gives a very Jewish outlook on life that i immediately connected with.
In 2003, the movie swept the Israeli Oscars with 11 wins out of 13 nominations. Technically, the movie is really good. The Art direction is fantastic. You feel like you see a real slice of life. Characters, costumes, places, decors, all lend a very realistic feel to the movie. It's as if the camera was simply planted in the lives of existing people. It's beautiful to look at, with a sharp and simple cinematography. The music is good but i feel it could have come up a notch with more memorable melodies or more contemporary music to outline the characters' emotions. On the acting side, the cast is overall very good, but it is Ayelet Zorer who shines throughout. She is a beautiful woman who conveys warmth, grief, sadness, comfort with aplomb. She is definitely an actress to follow as she will undoubtly do some great things again. She has done mainly TV roles in the past, but that's to be expected as the Israeli movie industry has just been taking off over the past few years.
Perhaps because i saw Malena (2000) not so long ago, i kept thinking of the two films in common terms. Both are a comming of age story with a gorgeous woman and a central message of overcoming difficulties and going on with life. Italians and Jews are very close, but those movies take place at such different times in history and in such different contexts, that they end up being completely different emotionally, in their focus and culture. Nina's Tragedies (2003)'s strength is in portraying Nina and her nephew. Nina is a complex character dealing with what life has handed her, and through tumultuous times in the life of this family, we see a really nice, smart and talented young man emerge. Nina is about the begining of something beautiful whereas Malena tells a story that marks the end of an era.
- Laurent Hasson