Friday, December 07, 2012

Off White Lies: Hezbollah Bombs, Israeli Hospitality

The second war in Lebanon is raging.  As Hezbollah rains down bombs on northern Israel, everyday Israelis respond by pulling together, offering refuge to evacuees.  Shaul is not from the north, but he is in need of shelter, especially now that his underwhelmed daughter has been bundled off to live with him.  He might be problematic, but it is hard to judge the irresponsible “inventor” too harshly in Maya Kenig’s Off White Lies (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Fresh off the plane from America, Libby is pretty appalled by the sight of her slovenly father, Shaul.  She is also confused why he does not take her straight to his home.  Of course, he does not have one.  He was hoping to stay with a buddy up north, but the bombardments scuttled those plans.  A news report gives Shaul a bright idea: accept the hospitality of a family hosting displaced northerners.  This will be Libby’s first time pulling a fast one, but the girl has to learn sometime.

Shaul and Libby land in the well to do home of senior military officer Gidi and his wife Helit.  Unfortunately, both are naturally suspicious.  While the father and daughter’s frequently evolving story ought to offer plenty of red flags, the host family sort of falls for Shaul’s goofy charm.  Nonetheless, exposure always lurks just around the corner.

Obviously, the extraordinary circumstances help the father and daughter repair their relationship.  Kenig and co-writer Dana Dimant clearly are not allergic to a little sentiment, but at least they are not compelled to tie everything together into a pretty bow.  Although Lies hits a lot of quirky notes, it is still interesting to see Israeli life during wartime from the perspective of an indie dramedy.

Gur Bentwich’s goonish likability really is Kenig’s ace in the hole.  Never too manic or shticky, he is just eccentric enough to be real.  Elya Inbar has some nice getting-reacquainted scenes with him, even though Libby’s petulance gets a little wearisome over time.  However, Tzahi Grad gets the lion’s share of the laughs as the gruff but surprisingly pragmatic Gidi.

Featuring several well drawn characters and a comparative sense of restraint, Kenig’s film is a pleasant enough excursion into family dysfunction.  Considerably better than The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (for instance), Off White Lies is recommended for fans of Israeli cinema. It opens today (12/7) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.