Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Elie Wajeman’s “Aliyah” is one of those quiet gems in which nothing happens and everything happens. By the end, nothing has changed, yet everything has changed.
Jewish twentysomething Alex (Pio Marmaï) has lived in Paris all his life. He tries to hide that he makes his money selling drugs, but it’s an open secret. He’s smart, and his family thinks he’s too good still to be where he’s at, but he can’t say no to his degenerate-gambler brother’s entreaties for money, and a certain amount of inertia has set in. When his cousin returns from Israel with plans to open a restaurant/nightclub in Tel Aviv, Alex sees the opportunity for a fresh start. His sister reminds him they’ve always looked down on Israelis, but he sets about piecing together his share of the startup cost and performing his “aliyah” – tracing his family’s heritage, learning Hebrew, and the like. A young woman comes into his life – his ex’s friend Jeanne (Adele Haenel) -- just as he’s setting to transition to a new one.
There’s not much more to “Aliyah” than this, but Wajeman (who co-wrote with Gaëlle Macé) makes the script’s leanness a strength. This is a movie with the courage to underplay scenes that could have been melodramatic, sometimes even to show events from a distance. The dialogue bears the ring of truth. Marmaï and Haenel share a lovely scene toward the end in which, joining Alex at a café table, Jeanne draws on a placemat the sad, stick-figure story of the doomed romance of “A” and “J”. Marmaï is a discovery here: strong, often stoic, with dark, sunken eyes that bespeak an internal life behind Alex’s glib surface. The movie ends with a long tracking scene of Alex in a new place, one of millions of people walking the streets and leaning over the terraces of city life.