A Tale of Love and Darkness
The touching autobiographical episodes that Amos Oz narrates in his coming-of-age novel A Tale of Love and Darkness echo the fragility of his home country, Israel, with which he is inseparably connected. Israel itself comes of age, with subsequent effects on the lives of its new and cosmopolitan population. Natalie Portman’s Hebrew-language adaptation covers the periods of establishment and soul-searching around the end of the British mandate and the beginning of Israel as an independent country, told through the eyes of a boy: Amos.
The young protagonist’s mother, Fania (Nathalie Portman), has managed to immigrate to the land that is about to become Israel, having escaped the Holocaust in Poland. A romantic and a lover of literature, she has dreamed of a future in the land of milk and honey, with a sensitive, passionate and strong man by her side. Amos’ father turns out to be anything but: his career as a writer is fruitless and their marriage lacks all of the fervour Fania imagined. Her disillusionment sets in motion a slow process of fading health, depression and solitude, with the adoration of her innocent son being a single source of joy. It is he, not her well-meaning but rational husband, who shares that love for little dreamlike tales and made-up stories, which, against his will and intent, are ultimately to define his future.
As passion projects go, particularly those concerned with delicate subject matter and ongoing debate, Portman cannot save A Tale of Love and Darkness from hitting a slightly sentimental tone at times, especially when it undertakes to break down complex politics into unassailable aphorisms. The best effects, on the other hand, are achieved when the film focuses on personal developments, which are quite often triggered by the historical situation. The slow decline of Amos’ mother’s health and her once keen imagination, all linked to the harsh realities around her, is a sad but beautifully visualised process. It is in these moments that the director’s best artistic decision becomes obvious: the casting of herself in the demanding role of a melancholic storyteller who breaks under the dissolution of her dreams.
A Tale of Love and Darkness does not yet have a UK release date.
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