Friday, January 22, 2021

Losing Alice, on Apple TV+

The Israeli film industry has come a long way since Menahem Golan’s “Bourekas movies.” This is the TV series that proves it. The film within-the-TV-show is so edgy, it might just drive its director over the edge. It will also strain her marriage, because its sex scenes are decidedly explicit and her husband is the male lead. Life and art keep echoing and paralleling each other in creator-writer-director Sigal Avin’s eight-episode Losing Alice, which premieres today on Apple TV.

Alice Ginor was a cutting-edge indie director, but now she mainly teaches at film school and directs commercials. In contrast, her actor-husband, David Bareket crossed over to mainstream superstardom. They are sort of happily married, with two young daughters, despite their divergent career trajectories. Then one day, Ginor has a “chance” encounter with Sophie Marciano, who professes to be a fan. She also has a screenplay Bareket’s people want him to do, as a concession to critics, after his latest drubbing.

Ginor thought Marciano was strange, because she was, but she is blown away by her script. The frustrated filmmaker would love to helm it and the opportunity arises when the director attached disappears under mysterious circumstances. Marciano is all for it, but Bareket is reluctant. However, Marciano seems to always get what she wants, which is usually attention. At first, Ginor is charmed by her quirkiness, but as she comes to understand how autobiographical the script is, she starts to suspect Marciano is more malevolent than she looks.

Press materials describe
Losing Alice as David Lynchian, but that somewhat overstates matters. Reality and fiction occasionally blend and overlap, but never to a head-tripping Mulholland Drive extent. In terms of look and tone, it is safe to call it “noir,” but Avin often resists leaning into the mystery/thriller business. Frankly, there are enough lurid elements to fill several installments of vintage “Skinemax” sexy psychological potboilers.

Arguably, one of the best things about
Losing Alice is its resistance to categorization. It is also hugely cinematic-looking, thanks to some striking visuals, dramatically lensed by series cinematographer Rotem Yaron. It looks great and Avin also makes shrewd use of licensed background music, especially Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love,” which plays a minor part in the series (Donald Byrd’s classic “Christo Redentor is also heard briefly).” Technically, it impresses, but the middle episodes get a little bogged down. The conclusion also underwhelms. We assume it must be building to something shocking, but instead, it is just one of those “okay everyone, go home” kind of moments.

Still, Ayelet Zurer (who co-starred in
Angels & Demons) gives a fearless, sexually charged, mature, and subtly shaded performance as Ginor. She is a knock-out, especially when sparring with Gal Toren, as the insecure Bareket. Frankly, she is also great playing off Lihi Kornowski’s Marciano, but there is something about the character or the performance that just doesn’t work. She is just too conspicuously a game-player and too obviously bad news. Surprisingly, some of Zurer’s best scenes come with Yossi Marshek, who manages to humanize her slightly voyeuristic neighbor, Tamir.

Losing Alice
is an intriguing series that you haven’t already seen dozens of times before. True, it could have been shorter and tighter, but that’s so often the case. It is notably ambitious and most definitely intended for adult audiences. In recent years, Israel has developed a competitive advantage for distinctive, outside-the-box television and Losing Alice definitely maintains that international reputation. If you already subscribe to Apple TV+, we recommend trying the first episode and then use your own personal judgment.