This love child of Natalie Portman was raised with careful adoration and grace. Based on the 2002 memoir by Amos Oz of the same name, Portman’s first directed film, which she also wrote and starred in, takes us back to Jerusalem pre-statehood, when Oz was growing up as a boy. The film is told in subtitled Hebrew, but the subtitles alone are not the only reason why the viewer could be glued to the screen. The way Portman tells the story is compelling and breathakingly beautiful from the moment it begins.
The story begins with a story. As one may guess by the title, the concept of storytelling is a constant throughout the film. It is how a young Amos (Amir Tessler) forms a strong bond with his mother Fania (Portman). Amos, Fania, and his father Arieh (Gilad Kahana) moved from Europe to Palestine. This changed almost everything, but the stories were always there. Until one day, they weren't.
Fania and Arieh’s marriage is not loveless, but it is passionless, leaving the romantic storyteller depressed and unfulfilled while living in the constant state of fear in post-World War II Jerusalem.
As Fania realizes her dreams of fiery love and exciting adventure in a new country are not reality, she sinks into a deep depression. With her loss of hope comes the a cease in storytelling which is felt by the entire family. Amos struggles as he watches his mother disintegrate, both mentally and physically. He sees his father hand-in-hand with another woman while his mother fails to get out of bed, and is left confused and alone. To make matters worse, he is bullied regularly at school, which he eventually solves using his mother’s gift of storytelling.
Perhaps one of the most and potentially underrated aspects of the powerful tale is that Portman did justice to Oz’s memoir. The film did not play out like a plot summary of the book, a quality that many book-to-film adaptations fall victim to. The details are there, nothing is glossed over, and in the end, Natalie Portman’s first directed film turned into a beautiful piece of art, honoring a brilliant memoir and important time in history.
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