‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Film Review

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A Tale of Love and Darkness stars Natalie Portman in her directorial debut. Adapted from the multi-award winning autobiographical novel of the same name by Amos Oz, it documents Oz’s life in Jerusalem’s last few years under the British Mandate and Israel’s first few years of independence. Portman picked a hearty and challenging first feature film —  but did she bite off more than she could chew?
(Focus World/D Films)

(Focus World/D Films)

Let’s put a little disclaimer here. A Tale of Love and Darkness tells a captivating story, and it is told primarily in Hebrew. If you are not one for foreign language films or subtitles, you may want to throw in the towel now (though I compel you to keep reading for my sake). The movie faces a number of challenges, but Portman shows exceptional promise with its direction and tone. The primary characters, mother Fania (played by Portman) and son Amos (played by Amir Tessler), put forth a strong performance — though a split narrative drags it down.
The development of this film is a pure passion project for Portman, an Israeli and American born in Jerusalem. She spent eight years writing and funding the film, working diligently to maintain its integrity. Portman’s love for the story both helps and hinders her. On one hand you have a solid cast, exceptional tone and respect for the source material. On the other, a brooding tale void of humour and restraint.
Amos’ upbringing is intriguing, depicting a time and place audiences don’t often get to explore. His innocence gives the film purity, documenting the challenges of living under an ever-shifting British-administration. Unfortunately, a lot of this work is undone when the film’s focus shifts to his mother Fania’s growing struggles.
It is also worth noting that although the conflict regarding Israel is alluded to, it is never really elaborated on. Don’t expect to leave the theatre significantly more informed.
A more overlapping issue with the movie is the scope if its content. Today more than ever, autobiographical stories are challenging to translate on screen. You see incredibly successful adaptations of true stories like Narcos, though they are far more fictionalised. The point is, however, that a great novel won’t always produce a great film. Audiences expect more than just the story: they except strong elements of drama, humour and action when appropriate.
The movie starts off strong thanks to its solid cast, a focus on Amos’ youth, visual direction and a need to explore Israel’s history. Ultimately, however, it loses sight of what’s important. Love and Darkness is a difficult tale to tell — and though it may have been a reach for the Academy award-winning actress, it shows immense potential for Portman’s directorial future.
Rating: 3/5*

*The Shak Rating System:
5 - Film of the Century
4.5 - Acadamy Award-Worthy
4 - (One of) The Year’s Top Movies
3.5 - Worth Price of Admission
3 - See it on a Tuesday
2.5 – Let Someone Else Buy Your Ticket
2 - Maybe After a Few Drinks
1.5- Are You Sure You Have Nothing Better to Do Tonight?
1 - The Movie Equivalent of a Zombie Bite