Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
ATLIT (RENDEZ-VOUS À ATLIT) | 91 min | NR
Directed by: Shirel Amitay
Starring: Géraldine Nakache, Judith Chemla, Yaël Abecassis, Arsinée Khanjian, Pippo Delbono, Makram Khoury, Pini Tavger
Typically in cinema, developing personal relationships with the characters takes at least one act. However, in first time writer-director Shirel Amitay’s ATLIT, she’s able to curate an absurd intimacy almost immediately. It’s rather incredible how much the audience cares about our protagonists in such a brief time. Showcasing the warmth and complexities of a sisterly bond, the dramedy has firm roots in reality but also includes a hefty dose of fantasy. As enrapturing as it can be infuriating, the film’s a mixed bag of charm and political protest.
ATLIT opens on a dying donkey taking its final breaths. It’s with this heavy-handed symbolism (for Israel’s changing and precarious political landscape) that we begin our journey. It’s 1995 and three half-French/ half-Israeli sisters – which include eldest Darel (Yaël Abecassis), middle child Cali (Géraldine Nakache) and youngest Asia (Judith Chemla) – have all converged on their family’s summer home in Atlit. Their mother Mona (Arsinée Khanjian) has recently passed away, leaving the girls to decide whether to keep or sell the fixer-upper. What begins as a sure-fire quick sale (one Darel botches) turns into a few of the sisters having second thoughts about selling their birthright. As they debate, strange things begin to occur; a tablecloth returns from the outside garbage bin, and Mona and Dad Zach (Pippo Delbono, who’s like a cross between John C. Reilly and Jemaine Clement) are seen by the girls as ghosts haunting the place. Cali also is haunted by visions of a family friend’s teen son who was brutally gunned down on their property. Hijinks and hilarity ensue.
ATLIT really excels in the first act when quirk and charm are at their most heightened. Had Amitay focused soley the narrative’s “A” storyline, which is like HELLO AGAIN meets UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, the picture would have more life, divine comedic absurdity and audience accessibility. It also would have increased its American remake potential. At a great detriment to the picture, whimsical comedy takes a backseat to politics and art – especially in the third act, where there are multiple long shots of characters watching TV, and during Cali’s intense hyper-stylized visions, which feel like they belong in a separate movie. These things handicap the narrative that otherwise has good forward momentum. There are narrative parallels between a state divided and the girls divided, which, granted is smart, but it’s not handled as effortlessly as the whimsy. There are also a few baffling developments that happen: Why don’t the girls don’t confess to each other they’re seeing their parents roam the property? Plus, why would any of them want to sell the place, since it’s a supernatural portal to visit with their deceased parents? Who wouldn’t want that?!
Though the film derives a lot of its power from Abecassis, Chemla, Khanjian and Nakache’s effervescence, Amitay has a fine eye for capturing their strong bond. The film’s highlights are held within the epically small moments – like Darel painting Asia’s toes, Asia and Cali playfully mocking Darel’s poor flirting skills, and Asia’s budding romance with local pal Dan (Pini Tavger). These characters’ emotional fluency radiates inside the audience’s minds. Familial ties are what bind and what resonate the most.
3 out of 5
ATLIT (RENDEZ-VOUS À ATLIT) plays ColCoa on April 22. It currently has no US Distributor.