Among the national cinemas represented at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, there was a notably large contingent of Israeli films. In addition to Un Certain Regard selections “Beyond the Mountain and Hills” and “Personal Affairs,” the country found itself featured in the Critic’s Week—a sidebar devoted to first and second-time filmmakers—with “One Week And A Day.” American-born Asaph Polonsky’s debut feature is a droll crowd-pleaser about a couple mourning the loss of their son, and the shape of their daily routine afterward. Sandwiched between movies about cannibalism (the stomach-churning “Raw”), economic exploitation and prison sentences, “One Week And A Day” is at times a genuinely funny diversion amongst the Critic’s Week selection. However, a sentimental streak and a series of precocious narrative turns diminish the impact of the film.
“One Week And A Day” opens with the conclusion of a Shiva, a traditional Jewish week of mourning. The principal observers are Eyal and Vicky Spivak (Shai Avivi and Evgenia Dodina) whose young son, we come to learn, has recently died of cancer. Their family home, otherwise appropriate to the characters’ middle-class background, is distinguished by a mechanized metal shutter that seals off the rear entrance. This decidedly unsubtle symbol—emphasizing the house as both physically and emotionally hermetic—also sets up the first gag, in which Eyal rudely shuts out his next-door neighbors. The film then goes on to play out the divergent grieving modes of the Spivaks: Eyal becomes near catatonic and spends his time lounging around in a T-shirt and sweat shorts, whereas Vicky resumes her normal life as a teacher as if nothing has changed.
The belly laughs arrive in full force as Eyal struggles to roll a joint, having already smuggled his deceased son’s medicinal marijuana out of the hospital. In an almost surreal case of the munchies gone wrong, he wraps a gummy worm in the rolling papers, hoping that it will help the joint maintain its shape. Eyal’s failure at self-medicating leads him to enlist the aid of the neighbors’ ne’er-do-well son, referred to dismissively by his family name “Zooler” (Tomer Kapon). The early odd-couple interactions between the two characters, buoyed by their stoner comedy hijinks, are the highlight of “One Week And A Day.”
Unfortunately, the film takes the quirky route towards its inevitable catharsis, beginning with a sequence in which Zooler shares his most memorable connection with the Spivaks’ late son: an air guitar routine. The goofiness of this performance—the “musician” bursts into frame wearing a tasseled poncho and frayed denim shorts—overwhelms the droll tone Polonsky has heretofore generated. The film’s worst tendencies are encapsulated by the motif of the imaginary; in its most cringe-worthy display, Eyal and Zooler sneak into the hospital and role-play surgery on the cancer-stricken mother of a young girl that had befriended the Spivaks’ child. The hipster connotations of the folk-inflected music that plays over this scene, as well as the choice of song for Zooler to rock out to earlier, further undermine the resonance of these narrative beats.
Unlike the lion’s share of exported Israeli cinema, regional politics stays out of the frame in “One Week And A Day.” The one exception is an instance in which Zooler advocates for air guitar over guns, a disposable comment that reflects the film’s level of engagement with hot-topic issues. Even the religious dimension is underplayed by Polonsky, with the extra “day” of the film’s title existing outside of the mourning period as prescribed by Jewish doctrine. Eyal in particular evades the funerary rituals whenever possible. The character’s narrative arc hinges on breaking through his stupor and securing the burial plots that flank his son’s in order for the family to ultimately be laid to rest together. The characters’ bereavement takes on a more universal, easily relatable dimension—a savvy choice on the part of the director, who likely has his sights set on international play.
Regrettably, the film resorts to twee antics a few times too often, a strategy more characteristic of the Sundance crowd than Cannes’ more rigorous and distinctive programming (even in the Critic’s Week). A number of narrative and tonal decisions reign in the scope of the film but also limit its relevance and national flavor. Nonetheless, the storytelling approach undertaken by Polonsky found the film snapped up for U.S. distribution by Oscilloscope Pictures (one of the only films of its section acquired for the territory). Whether his sophomore feature is an Israeli production or an American one, this young director would be wise to leverage the visibility of “One Week And A Day” to cultivate a more distinctive voice. [C+]