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‘Time of Favor’ Reveals the Inner State of a Nation

TIMES FILM CRITIC

“Time of Favor” is one of the most successful, provocative and intensely contemporary of Israeli films, so much so that to watch it is to feel the country having a passionate argument with itself.

Israel’s entry for best foreign language Oscar and the winner of six Israeli Academy Awards, including best picture, best screenplay, best actor and best actress, “Time of Favor” is the impressive debut of 33-year-old writer-director Joseph Cedar. A former infantry paratrooper, he is one of the few Israeli directors to come out of the Orthodox religious community, and that dual background is one of the things that gives his work a distinctive quality.

Part political thriller, part romantic melodrama, “Time of Favor” is set in an Orthodox settlement on the West Bank led by a charismatic rabbi. It looks candidly at the differing currents within this community, at the personal price that is invariably paid for messianic dreams, at how the philosophy of the settlements affects individuals and the country as a whole. And it does so, despite the theatricality endemic to Israeli films, with an even-handedness that extends to points of view the film in no way supports.

Although it’s no more than glimpsed, the center of “Time of Favor,” much talked about but hardly ever on-screen, is Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the site of places sacred to two religions--Islam’s Dome of the Rock and Judaism ‘s Western Wall. A visit here in September 2000 by political candidate Ariel Sharon led inevitably to violence and controversy.

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Also focused on the mount is the magnetic Rabbi Meltzer (Assi Dayan, son of former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and a major figure in Israeli film). The rabbi dreams, as did his father before him, of a new temple rising on the mount, and he conveys that dream to the young men who study in his yeshiva.

Not necessarily a hard-core fanatic, the rabbi is sane, brilliant, articulate, which makes secular Israelis view him as even more dangerous than the zealots of the past, proof that, as one of them nicely puts it, “the line between abnormal and normal has changed.”

Menachem (Israeli heartthrob Aki Avni) is one of the rabbi’s students and an officer in the army. As the film opens, Menachem is given command of an entirely orthodox company that includes his best friends Pini (Edan Alterman) and Itamar (Micha Selektar). It’s a good moment for Pini too. The most brilliant mind in the yeshiva, he has been selected by the rabbi as a potential husband for his daughter Michal. Michal, however, is more interested in Menachem, and, it becomes increasingly obvious, he’s interested in her as well.

As played by Israeli actress Tinkerbell and written by Cedar (who at one time wanted Natalie Portman for the role), Michal is the film’s most involving character. Unapologetically direct, she speaks her mind about her situation at every opportunity, instigates and quashes romantic situations, and provides an eloquent counterpoint to her father’s heedless advocacy and the film’s welter of traditional male voices.

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There is more going on in “Time of Favor” than boy meets girl. There is also, in an echo of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish religious student, the possibility of a plan to blow up the Dome of the Rock that would be catastrophic for any chance of peace in the region.

Cedar--American-born, in Israel since he was 6 and holder of a film degree from New York University--provides glimpses of many sides of Israel.

We see violent secret-police interrogation techniques that Human Rights Watch would not approve of, as well as an enormously touching scene of two Orthodox young people, fearful of physical contact, courting by having their hands intertwine as shadows on a wall.

Capturing Undercurrents of Divergent Philosophies

Cedar’s script also allows for divergent philosophical viewpoints not often given screen time. We hear Rabbi Meltzer’s genuine yearning for Jerusalem, an orthodox man’s explanation of how and why doing everything for God is his ultimate goal, even the voice of a fanatical terrorist talking about the “privilege” of being able to “put history on its correct course.”

What Israelis no doubt take for granted turns out to be one of “Time of Favor’s” most interesting aspects for foreign audiences, and that is a glimpse into how gruff and abrasive their society can be, how lacking--as parties throughout the Middle East are--in the ability to simply trust in people who don’t share your point of view. In this kind of a world, a happy ending is not likely. The only question is exactly how distraught everyone is going to be.

*

Unrated. Times guidelines: adult subject matter.

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‘Time of Favor’

Aki Avni...Menachem

Tinkerbell...Michal

Edan Alterman...Pini

Assi Dayan...Rabbi Meltzer

Micha Selektar...Itamar

Amnon Volf...Mookie

An Israel Film Fund, Yes and Cinema Factory co-production, released by Kino International. Director Joseph Cedar. Producers David Mandil, Eyal Shiray. Screenplay Cedar. Cinematographer Ofer Inov. Editor Tova Asher. Costumes Etiti Lugassi. Music Yonatan Bar-Giora. Production design Yair Greenberg, Ofer Rachanim. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

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In limited release. Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 655-4010. Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811.


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