To kick off my attendance at TIFF, my opening night film was Natalie Portman’s feature directorial debut, based on Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel, A Tale of Love and Darkness. In its North American premiere, not only does the film serve as Portman’s directorial debut but the Oscar-winning actress also adapted the screenplay and stars in the film as Oz’s mother, Fania.
The 97-minute picture, which is entirely in Hebrew with some Arabic, takes the viewers on a journey through Oz’s upbringing in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel, and what effect it had on him and his family while they dealt with turmoil outside, as well as inside their home.
There is undoubtedly potential behind the camera for Portman where she has a keen eye for including dark shots that represent the nostalgia and struggle in Fania’s stories during her early life in Europe under the pressure of growing anti-Semitic sentiments leading to World War II, along with Fania’s tales to Amos being brought to life with intriguing dialogue and visuals. The cast of relative unknowns represented the people in Oz’s book well, even when they had short amounts of screen time.
But the most compelling part of the story was delivered by Oz’s older self, knowing that peace between Israel and Palestine is needed. In one profound analogy, he described Palestine and Israel as being two brothers which have come from the same abusive father – Europe. Europe destroyed Palestine with colonialism and destroyed the Jewish people with the Holocaust. But instead of the two regions looking upon one another as allies or brothers in arms, they see the face of their abusive father in one another and are compelled to fight against each other.
However, with the good, usually comes the bad. The bad arrived in the form of many fades to black- which did not always seem to be the best transition choice from one scene to the next. Some overheard critiques from various moviegoers called the film, “hard to follow” and just as they become invested in one scene, the transition to the next came hurriedly.
All-in-all, I would say that A Tale of Love and Darkness is a good film, albeit slow at times. The intricacies of the flashbacks and storytelling are enjoyable to watch, but it falls a little flat onscreen with the needless transitions. The most important element of the film is the resonating message of peace that is absolute, and it is clear that Portman put her all into Fania and the film itself, taking eight years to create the screenplay – and really, that is all I can ask for from the Oscar winner’s directorial debut.