Results 1 to 6 of 6

Thread: Intimate Grammar

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Vancouver, B.C.
    Posts
    595

    Intimate Grammar

    INTIMATE GRAMMAR (Ha'dikduk ha'pnimi)
    Directed by Nir Bergman, Israel, (2010), 110 minutes

    Under normal circumstances, adolescence is a difficult field to navigate, but for an undersized, child-like boy with dysfunctional parents, it can be a minefield of isolation. Based on the novel, “The Book of Intimate Grammar” by David Grossman, Israeli director Nir Bergman’s powerful film Intimate Grammar is the heartbreaking story of a boy stuck in an endless childhood with no obvious means of escape. First prize winner at the Jerusalem and Tokyo Film Festivals, Intimate Grammar is the follow up to Bergman’s 2002 film, Broken Wings, a critically-acclaimed effort about an Israeli family attempting to cope with the death of its patriarch.

    Set in Jerusalem in the 1960s against the background of the approaching Six-Day War, Intimate Grammar opens with a black and white newsreel showing Independence Day celebrations to provide an historical context. The opening scene immediately establishes differences. Ten-year-old Aharon Klienfeld (Roee Elsberg) and his friends suspect upstairs neighbor Edna Blum (Evelyn Kaplun), of being a “spy” and raid her apartment looking for clues. One of them finds a black bra that was left out and invites Aharon to take a look but sees that he is not interested. He would rather stand and look at a replica of Picasso’s painting “Guernica.”

    In the new Israel, there is little privacy. The apartments are small and Aharon has to share a bedroom with his older sister Yochi (Yael Sgerski), an overweight teen who was called a “cow” in school. Aharon is bright, but physically undeveloped for his age, a fact that he is constantly being reminded of. Self-conscious about his body, he receives only constant hectoring from his parents, Holocaust survivors who find it hard to relate to the culture in which their son is growing up. Aharon’s Polish-born father Moshe (Yehuda Almagor) is a survivor of a Soviet labor camp who tells Aharon that artists and intellectuals were the first to die in the camps, because they refused to believe it was so.

    When Ms. Blum asks him to save her favorite tree, Moshe spends long hours working on the tree, much to the chagrin of his surly wife Hinda (Orly Silbersatz) who suspects that Ms. Blum has designs on him. A later escapade with Ms. Blum paying Moshe to tear down some walls in her house, only underscores her fears. Hinda is Aharon’s shrill and overbearing mother who seemingly has little patience or understanding of her children and struggles daily to deal with her elderly mother-in-law they call “Mumcha” (Rivka Gur). Hinda never reassures her son that he will eventually grow, but Moshe reminds him that another small man, Napoleon, conquered Europe.

    Aharon’s respect for his father takes a hit, however, when he discovers a pack of playing cards with pictures of naked women belonging to his father, and asks Yochi if a spy could have planted them. The impact of his slow growth becomes more apparent when he notices certain changes in his friends at school, such as the growth of armpit hair, which he marks down in his notebook. Aharon’s only companion is his friend Gidon (Eden Luttenberg), but Aharon’s childish fantasies and dangerous escapades trying to emulate Harry Houdini puts his friendship at risk. During a sleepover when both boys study English, Gidon remarks that English is a hard language because of so many tenses and humorously blames the British for their legacy. Aharon tells him that he likes the English use of “present continuous” tense such as “I am jumping.”

    Afterwards, Aharon begins to use the “intimate grammar” to distance himself from his feelings, acting like a passive observer living in the “present continuous”, his inner voice repeating the words, “I am running, I am jumping, I am playing, I am Aharoning.” The film moves two years ahead when Aharon is celebrating his Bar Mitzvah in his home. He is now thirteen but still small for his age. Sulking in his room because his parents did not pay for a hall, he only comes out to greet his guests at the pleading of his sister who tells him to treat it all with a laugh. His world brightens when he develops a crush on Yaeli, an attractive classmate who aspires to be a ballet dancer, but she soon gravitates towards the more mature Gidon and the three go on dates together.

    As Gidon and Yaeli go away to work on a kibbutz with Israeli youth groups, Aharon stays at home watching from the sidelines with a growing feeling of self-hatred. “Having a body is itself a defect,” he says. When a doctor mistakes him for a ten-year-old, Aharon’s anxiety increases, “Maybe I’ll stay like this forever”, he muses, “with only my thoughts growing up.” Confined by systems he does not understand, his life is gradually defined as an outsider. Rejected by his friends and parents, he has no kindred spirit to relate to. As Aharon’s life begins a downward spiral, he thinks about all the people around him, “They’re starting off on their road to death, and I haven’t yet.”

    Elsburg’s performance as the troubled boy is a marvel, full of subtlety, nuance, and sensitivity that never becomes cloying. Like Leolo in the film of the same name by Jean-Claude Lauzon, his is a situation made for every outsider whose environment is so devoid of the things that nurture their souls, that, to survive, they must escape into a world of dreams, surviving only by being a spectator to their own life. Increasingly drawn to poetic fantasy, Aharon begins to drift further away from reality, his agonized stream of consciousness elevating the film’s final segment to one of haunting beauty.

    GRADE: A-
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,313
    On your recommendation I'll see this as I did Broken Wings, when I can, sorry I missed it at the recent Jewish Film Festival in the Bay Area. How did you get to see it, by the way? How would you rate this in relation to Broken Wings? It seems some think it less successful, if I'm not mistaken.

    Looking online, I find the Variety review offers some further insights into the pluses and minuses of the film. The still also shows that the boy is rather goodlooking, despite his unfortunate smallness. Alissa Simon's review concludes thus:

    As a director, Bergman excels at depicting the banal but telling details of the Kleinfelds' family life, as well as the complex internal world of a pensive youth, but it feels as if he had some difficulty in calibrating all the performances to match the story's serious tone. In particular, Zilbershatz's portrayal of the fearsome mother strikes an off-key note as she teeters on the edge of sitcom caricature, as does Gur's granny. However, newcomer Elsberg does a fine job as the bright boy who can master some of Houdini's tricks but is at a loss with the codes of adolescence.

    Although necessarily telescoping events and characters, Bergman's layered script courageously remains faithful to its source, even down to the open ending. It also manages to find workable visual equivalents for the novel's metaphorical content.

    Solid craft credits evoke the look and sounds of '60s Jerusalem, although the score too often drips with cheap sentiment.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-05-2011 at 03:47 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Vancouver, B.C.
    Posts
    595
    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Knipp View Post
    On your recommendation I'll see this as I did Broken Wings, when I can, sorry I missed it at the recent Jewish Film Festival in the Bay Area. How did you get to see it, by the way? How would you rate this in relation to Broken Wings? It seems some think it less successful, if I'm not mistaken.

    Looking online, I find the Variety review offers some further insights into the pluses and minuses of the film. The still also shows that the boy is rather good looking, despite his unfortunate smallness.
    I had to import an Israeli DVD from e-Bay, then convert it to NTSC.

    It's probably not as good as Broken Wings but I loved it anyway. It is definitely darker. The biggest drawback for me was the somewhat over-the-top performance by Orly Silbersatz as the mothe, though I am reading the novel by David Grossman on which the film is based and the mother is about as over-the-top as shown in the film. Of course, the novel is a more complete experience. It can go so much deeper into the thoughts of the characters and the language is very beautiful.

    I can also relate to the thoughts of a 12-year-old Jewish boy who is different than his classmates. It could have been me in the book. At any rate, it is hard to make a two hour film based on a 450 page novel, but I think on the whole Bergman did a good job.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,313
    Thank you. I think now you told me you were going to buy an Israeli DVD. IN view of your comments here now, maybe your review is a bit more adulatory than is quite justified by your feelings, but maybe you want to encourage people to see it (if they ever can). However mentioning some defects could strengthen your case by making your evaluation seem totally frank and based on a total examination. I could imagine identifying with the boy too. I'd have to see the film to understand how it could be darker than Broken Wings, which certainly is grim and devoid largely of fun. You are very honest here in saying a film can go only so far in conveying the full sense of a 400+-page novel with much inner monologue. That's what I feel with any film from a good novel.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Vancouver, B.C.
    Posts
    595
    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Knipp View Post
    Thank you. I think now you told me you were going to buy an Israeli DVD. IN view of your comments here now, maybe your review is a bit more adulatory than is quite justified by your feelings, but maybe you want to encourage people to see it (if they ever can). However mentioning some defects could strengthen your case by making your evaluation seem totally frank and based on a total examination. I could imagine identifying with the boy too. I'd have to see the film to understand how it could be darker than Broken Wings, which certainly is grim and devoid largely of fun. You are very honest here in saying a film can go only so far in conveying the full sense of a 400+-page novel with much inner monologue. That's what I feel with any film from a good novel.
    No, I pretty much stand by my review. As I said, though I wish Orly Silbersatz had toned it down a bit, she seems to be in tune with the character as written. Her performance is my only objection, however, and that is why I rated it an A- instead of an A. I think it could easily have been another half hour and perhaps with more of the boy's inner thoughts presented as a voice over, but since I wasn't directing the film, I accept it the way it is and recommend it highly.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,313
    Pretty much? I merely suggested that some qualifications and reservations might have strengthened your praise of the film. For me also it is important to know where you place its merits in relation to his first film, which I've seen.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •