The film is called “Is That You?” and the answer is “It most certainly is!”
Winner of a well-deserved Israeli Academy Award last year for Best Independent Film, this delicious cinematic treat explores love, the road not taken, and the unfulfilled dreams one may come to acknowledge as regrets later in life.
For Ronnie, (Alon Aboutboul), a 60-year-old Israeli, the road not taken leads to Rachel, the girl he loved as a young man. He has not seen her for nearly 40 years, but he still cherishes the memory of her, and so, on a whim, he decides to fly to America, where she now lives, to surprise her on her 60th birthday.
His brother Jacob, who also has emigrated to the United States, greets him at the airport and brings him home to stay with his wife and son. There Ronnie’s mood intensifies as he watches the films of himself, his brother, their friends, and the beautiful Rachel playing happily on a beach in Israel at a time when they were all young and carefree.
Jacob, who owns a car dealership, lends Ronnie a car and sees him off as he begins a long, grueling drive to Rachel’s house in upstate New York. (The locations are never specified, but it’s easy to recognize the scenery and greenery of upstate New York. Besides, in the end credits the producers thank the City of Syracuse.)
Somewhere along the highway the car breaks down and a young woman named Myla stops to help. She is a filmmaker and when Ronnie tells her where he is going and why, she is so intrigued that she offers to drive him to Rachel’s if he will agree to be in her film.
Suzanne Sadler, who plays Myla, is an exuberant counterpoint to Aboutboul’s thoughtful and sensitive masculinity, and during the long hours on the road she manages to tease him into relaxing as their conversation becomes a gradual sharing of intellectual intimacy.
In speaking of their lives they acknowledge the fear and hesitation that has bedeviled them and their brief moments of courage. About her craft she says, “Imagination creates reality.” And he says, “You are much realer to me when you are not.”
As they encounter strangers along the way Myla is very effective in persuading them to reveal their dreams and regrets on camera, and Ronnie begins to help her out by handling the sound equipment for her.
When they finally approach Rachel’s home, you can feel the growing apprehension in Ronnie as he rings the doorbell. But Rachel doesn’t live there anymore. The current occupant, who tells them about his seven successive “wives” is quickly absorbed into Myla’s film. He reveals that “Rachel and her husband” have moved farther north and gives them her forwarding address.
At the next stop the couple who lives in what used to be Rachel’s house divulge that “she left her husband and moved on.” But they, too, have a forwarding address.
Ronnie and Myla have now been traveling together for two days and have evolved into a warm father-daughter relationship.
At long last they cross the border into Canada, get to Rachel’s house and are told by a neighbor that she is at a party with friends, celebrating her birthday. They join her there, and the rest is history.
This film, written, directed, and produced by Dani Menkin, is a subtle masterpiece filled with emotion, humor, and regrets.
It even manages to sandwich in a brief, grainy, black-and-white scene from “Love Affair”, a 1939 film in which Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer pledge to meet again in six months’ time at the top of the Empire State building. This quixotic insertion is a diversion, but it appropriately mirrors the love, the dreams, and the romance that invigorates Menkin’s film.
Oh, and one more thing about the star. Alon Aboutboul is an extraordinarily good-looking man, full of charm and charisma. Any woman over 40 who doesn’t fall in love with him just hasn’t been paying attention.
‘Is That You?” opens tomorrow, Oct. 14, in Los Angele
by Cynthia Citron