Sunday, April 22, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Virgins

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Keren Ben Rafael
International Narrative Competition

There’s an almost mythical importance assigned by popular culture and many societies to a person’s first time having sex. It can serve as the dominant obsession of someone’s existence until it finally is turned into a reality, regardless of whether that experience is a positive or negative one and what it leads to next. Along with the unnatural emphasis on the impact of this milestone come other passing interests which can divert attention away to things that may be far less attainable but equally alluring for the mystery and anticipation they create.

Lana (Joy Rieger) spends her days in a beach town in Israel trying to find some excitement with a few male friends and rebelling against the monotony of her life. Her mother (Evgenia Dodina) operates a café that is rarely visited and may soon close, and her younger cousin Tamar clings to her more than she would like. When a journalist, Tchipi (Michael Aloni), arrives in town, he immediately invigorates Lana’s life as he serves not only as a prospective romantic interest but also engages her and everyone she knows by perpetuating a local rumor that a mermaid has been sighted in the water, an impossibility that nonetheless strikes residents near and far as immensely intriguing.

This film’s title may carry a deeper meaning than the more conventional, sex-related implications that are presented in its first scene, which finds Lana playing strip poker with boys who are far less willing to accept the consequences of losing their hands – and clothes – than she is. More than wanting to experience sexual satisfaction, for which Tchipi serves as an attractive ideal, Lana wants to do something with her life and escape the boring repetitiveness of where she is to live it up in Tel Aviv, a dream destination she imagines for the near future. Her mother and her fading business represent the reality of what Lana may have to endure, footsteps in which she does not wish to follow.

“Virgins” follows in the footsteps of a number of recent Israeli films, including “Six Acts” and “Zero Motivation,” Tribeca entries from 2013 and 2014, respectively, merging their themes of sexual enthusiasm and overwhelming boredom to create a product that feels like a far less fantasy-oriented version of “Ondine.” Whether the mermaid exists here is less important than how the concept that it might captures the spirit of those in the town, including Lana, who latches on to it as a way to be relevant. Rieger and Aloni both turn in solid performances, as does Dodina, and this film ultimately can’t match the allure of its fiction, traveling a journey with no clear ending, literal or metaphorical, in sight, just as uncertain about its own future as Lana is about hers.


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