TJFF 2012: ‘Naomi’ is a study of incurious people being unlikeable for unknowable reasons

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Naomi

Directed by Eitan Tzur

Written by Edna Mazia

Israel/France, 2010

If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, then tales of infidelity must be one of the oldest forms of storytelling. From the bible to Nabokov, Adele’s entire discography to Adrian Lyne’s entire filmography, the devastating consequences of adulterous liaisons have provided ample inspiration for impassioned pieces of art.

Eitan Tzur’s extramarital drama piece, Naomi, hopes to break new ground in this impermeable genre, but instead of cultivating inspiration and adding to the library of pivotal staples, Naomi’s uninspired efforts makes it a poorly adapted translation of well-established works.

Married to the 28-year old Naomi (Melanie Peres), Ilan (Yossi Pollak), a middle-aged astrophysics professor, becomes suspicious of his wife when their marital routines start to go astray. When his insecurities become realized, Ilan’s life spirals into a dark tailspin of despair, resulting in unfathomable repercussions.

The best way to summarize Naomi is to call it a meandering, contrived, structurally fragmented mess. To add suspense and uncertainty to the film, the script will often concoct outlandishly improbable sequence of events. The film’s ‘plot twists’ are indeed surprising, not because they’re unpredictable, but because they are unbelievable. As there is no logical continuity to the narrative, the story becomes inconsequential, and thus, monotonous.

All of the tension and suspense, because they’re predicated off impossibilities, feel fake and empty. Without weight to the scenes, the entire picture feels like an insubstantial exercise, but because the film takes itself so seriously, we are forced to watch it meander from one ‘revelation’ to the next.

Even worse is the script’s treatment of the characters. Professing itself as an intriguing psychological study, Naomi is, instead, a study of psychiatrics, of people that aren’t profound, but confounding. The characters don’t have a central anchor, or any consistency in their motives, with their actions carefully manufactured and calculated to serve the plot.

Furthermore, none of the characters are sympathetic in any way. As a result, the film manifests into a study of incurious people being unlikeable for unknowable reasons.

For example, we initially have apprehensions about Ilan because we suspect him to be an overbearing and controlling man (see the opening lecture in his astrophysics class). In a sense, he is like a Humbert Humbert. However, we are supposed to sympathize for him when he learns of Naomi’s infidelity, but because his reactions are vainly vindictive and daftly immature, and because Ilan himself is partly to blame, we don’t.

The viewers don’t know what to expect, and, because of the erratic and improvisational script, neither do the characters. We do not see the characters as real people, with real emotions and motivations. Instead, we are forced to see them as byproducts of an over-ambitious, haphazardly written script.

The film is heavy-handed, hackneyed, and obvious from the start. If you’ve seen Unfaithful, or if you’ve read Lolita, you’ll likely know how this film ends, even though the finale is a disgracefully trite deus ex machina cop-out. Naomi is never as clever as it believes itself to be, and far worse than you’ll ever expect it.

– Justin Li

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