A Tale of Love and Darkness tells the story of Amos Oz’s youth, set against the backdrop of the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel. The film details the young man’s relationship with his mother and his beginnings as a writer, while looking at what happens when the stories we tell become the stories we live.
Natalie Portman’s directorial and screenwriting debut in this Hebrew language film is a very long and drawn out film that is directed towards a very niche audience as it’s definitely not something that would be seen in mainstream cinemas, if at all. It was hard to find a copy of this film as I didn’t manage to catch it at the cinemas at all as it was mainly a festival film, however still didn’t have a screening at the London Film Festival.
I unfortunately haven’t read the source material and I know I am getting a little slack with that. I do have valid excuses of about a thousand books to get through while writing my own material, looking after a new puppy, and struggling to get to the cinema in the first place. Bare with me.
In saying all this, however, in this case, I don’t think it’s that necessary to read the source material as its something so cinematic that it needs visualisation. It captures the dark and difficult yet hopeful period of the Jewish/Israeli history very well and their fragmented relationship with the Palestians, siege on Jerusalem, and the impact of the uprooted Eastern European Jewish survivors of 1945. Adapting this book from Amos Oz’s biography of the same name was always going to be a challenge, like adapting any work is, but Portman did very well in doing so. We need more female writers and directors, much like Portman with this film, but it shouldn’t be limited to these roles. We need more women given chances behind the camera.
Despite all of this, and I’ve seen in other reviews of this film also, that historical references did not register with some though personally, I think justice was made of the period despite the dark atmosphere that clouded the film through it’s poverty and fear. It might help to have some sort of understanding of the period and setting of this film, and this is where reading the original text might come into play, but this is probably why Portman adapted the text into Hebrew instead of English – to have more of a connection to the viewers of where this text originated.
It’s a very slow moving ninety or so minute film with not much drama driving the story forward. This doesn’t mean that it makes it a less interesting film, what keeps the audience watching is the poetic language of the film through it’s visuals and tongue along with the thought behind the meaning of the film, much like that of Arrival but on much less of a grand scale.
There’s nothing that really stands out about this film, though there’s nothing that ultimately fails it either. It’s a decent first effort on Portman’s half. By the end, I was just waiting for the final credits to roll.