hill start

Hill Start - Judi Herman reviews a fine tragicomedy from Israel showing at the UK Jewish Film Festival

hill start, israeli film, seret 2015 It's no wonder this engrossing tragicomedy has been a box-office comic sensation in Israel says Judi Herman

What will you make of the Geva family – Jerusalem’s finest? Father and son, who work together at the sharp end of cosmetic surgery, make their first appearance intently drawing lines on the naked flesh of their next client – a young woman who looks pretty shapely already. There is some professional disagreement and it’s soon clear that father Micha (Shlomo Bar-Aba) is pulling rank on son Ari (Itay Tiran) when it comes to enhancing those curves against his better judgement. Ari knows his own mind when it comes to his chosen bride, mouthy private detective Reli (Romi Aboulafia), despite Micha’s disapproval and the consternation of the women in his family. His mother Ora (Idit Teperson) is a super-fit gym teacher and half-marathon winner, and  sister Shlomit (Mali Levi Gershon) teaches Arabic in schools, using the romantic films of her crooner idol Ahmed as a teaching aid and setting writing the diary of a Palestinian schoolchild as a homework assignment.

There may be a touch of social snobbism about the Gevas – Reli is from the Sephardi community – but there’s no doubt that alcohol makes her behaviour pretty challenging. The trouble is that she and Ari drink more than a few premature toasts on their wedding day before the ceremony, and Reli's inability to hold her drink sets off a chain of events that means Ari never gets to break a glass under the wedding canopy that day. The only glass that smashes is the windscreen of Micha’s car as he has a terrible accident driving the whole family to the ceremony.

It’s the rebuilding of bodies, dreams and lives shattered that day in unexpected ways that is the meat of this unusual, quirky tragicomedy. I’d say "you couldn’t make it up", but writer and director Oren Stern and his co-writer Riki Shulman have, of course, done exactly that!

Ora loses the most, for she is left in a coma, unaware that she is surrounded by her  family, who take to meeting for meals at her bedside. Despite Micha’s fury, Ari has to try to find the courage to stick to Reli and reschedule the wedding lest he lose her. Micha himself has to find the courage to get back behind the wheel and retake his driving test or face a life-long driving ban. Thanks to a chance meeting with a pretty driving instructor who moonlights as a yoga instructor (Romi Aboulafia) this apparently insensitive man (he can’t help pointing out physical flaws with a practised plastic surgeon’s eye) learns some valuable life lessons.

Shlomit gets to meet not one, but two potential significant others, thanks to her decision to run the next half marathon through Jerusalem’s streets in honour of her mother. She trains with Motti, the wheelchair-using gym teacher who replaces Ora; and finds the bed next to her occupied by the mother of matinee idol Ahmed, who's played with relish by real-life Arab star Yousef (Joe) Sweid.

Will Ora wake from her coma? Will Shlomit follow in her mother’s springy footsteps and win the marathon? Will she find love with Motti or Ahmed? Will Ari find his courage so that Reli can get her man in the end? And will self-centred Micha learn to centre himself? You’ll have to see this funny, sometimes abrasive film to find out. And if you do, you’ll enjoy some wonderfully rounded comic performances from some of Israel’s top acting talent and find out why it’s done so well at festivals around the world.

By Judi Herman

Hill Start screens in London on Saturday 14 November. 9.15pm. JW3, 341-351 Finchley Rd, NW3 6ET; 020 7433 8988.

Then moves to Didsbury on Sunday 15 November. 6.30pm. Cineworld, M20 5PG; 087 1200 2000.

Leeds on Sunday 15 November. 4pm. MAZCC, LS17 6AZ; 011 3268 4211.

Glasgow on Tuesday 17 November. 7.30pm. CCA, G2 3JD; 014 1352 4900.

South Woodford on Saturday 21 November. 7pm. Odeon, E18 2QL; 087 1224 4007.

Find further info at www.ukjewishfilm.org