Natalie Portman, makes her feature directorial and screenwriting debut with her screen adaptation of Amos Oz’s best-selling autobiographical novel ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’.
In 1945, in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel, the film details the life of young Amos Oz and his relationship with his mother Fania Oz portrayed by Natalie Portman. The film delves into the effect the stories we tell as parents and hear from our own affect the complicated life of a young child. While the film stays true to the book it does take the usual stance of adaptations not being able to cover a biography entirely. Amos as in the book crossed paths with a selection of prominent figures in Israeli society, among them Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Shaul Tchernichovsky, and the Israeli poet Zelda.
Director Natalie Portman’s attention to detail has created a series of unparalleled subtle transitions between narration, fantasy and reality, which are the centerpieces of the film and through which the film unspools. The main reason as to the magnificence of this picture as a piece of art is mainly from the similarities between the story and the life of Natalie Portman and her connection to the roots of which this film is based — similarly to the Oz family she was born in Israel. Maintaining its cultural meaning Portman has also made the intelligent choice of keeping the original language the story was meant to be told in Hebrew, not compromising for the dominance of english language films in cinema today.
Natalie Portman also delivers an awards worthy performance as Amos’ mother Fania Oz, in addition to the praise she already deserves having pulled off the strenuous trifecta of having written, directed and acted in her film, which begin filming just over a year ago this May.
The narration, fantasy and reality aspect of the film is actually visually stunning, especially the transitions that gradually ease you into and out of each mode of storytelling, which appear to tag team throughout the feature. The narration comes in the form of what we are lead to believe is the future incarnation of Amos Oz telling the story as if it were a distant memory. The fantasy on the other hand appears throughout the picture as a visual display of Fania’s bedtime stories told to Amos, which also manifest together as the film nears its conclusion. The grueling reality is that of Jerusalem in the middle of the 1940s, while this film signifies the history of the state of Israel describing it in detail, it acts as a background to the lead characters emotional situations of the Oz family.
While on shaky award season ground at this early stage, A Tale of Love and Darkness is a snapshot of a time rarely portrayed in cinema and as such has an overwhelming amount of potential to be honored with a coveted nomination for best foreign language film. However, its ability to hold an audience for its entirety is unyielding to say the least, by the time the curtains closed at its screening here at the Cannes Film Festival a good portion of the audience had already left the theater. Even if this piece of art and time is left out to dry at this years North American awards season, the film still stands an extremely strong chance of being nominated at next years Cesar Awards. This film will rely heavily on the awards acclaim to survive the rigorous box-office. However, while the film might not become successful for anything apart from being the feature directorial debut of Natalie Portman domestically, the production will certainly draw an international audience to cinemas.
For audiences this is certainly is not one for the impatient viewer, the film takes a slow and steady stroll through the life and childhood of Amos Oz. However, this is certainly a must watch for audiences that appreciate an authentic slice of cultural time.
About the Author
Editor-in-Chief of Tastic Film Magazine James Rush.