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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Radium (2010)

Director: Daniel Fallik
Stars: Leah Kamhazi, Raz Lissitzky, Daniel Botzer and Tomer Ze'ev
This film was an official selection at the 6th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Tempe in 2010. Here's an index to my reviews of 2010 films.

This Israeli science fiction short, shot in Hebrew, could have been a fascinating piece of cinema. It's set in Tel Aviv, fifteen years after the end of a nuclear war that turned it from Israel's second largest city to a radioactive shanty town quarantined from the rest of the country. Instead of the criminals dumped into New York City by Americans in Escape from New York and those walled off by the French in District 13, here it's those who have become exposed to too much radiation who get a one way ticket into Tel Aviv at the behest of the Israeli government. What writer/director Daniel Fallik attempted to show is a parallel between this city surrounded by an invisible enemy and bounded by walls we don't see; and the state of Israel, which has something of the same situation. Yet Israel, under constant threat of terrorism, carries on regardless. People work and play and get on with their lives as that's what people do, and so that's what happens in toxic Tel Aviv as well.

Into this background comes an old human story. Layla is a new girl in town, dumped like the rest because she's become too exposed to radiation. She quickly hooks up with Raziel, a tough and streetwise local, but promptly starts looking for Varon, her former boyfriend who was sent here two years earlier. Initially this all unfolds well: capably shot by Livnat Gilboa, capably acted by Leah Kamhazi and Raz Lissitzky, and, less overtly, capably designed by Elad Orenstein. He built or enhanced landscapes with garbage, locations like the marketplace constructed from scratch. For a while we get the normalcy with daily life carrying on regardless, even down to a bar fully stocked with alcohol and a live band. The threat is everywhere but routine, like the radiation percentages on the food labels or the enticement on cigarette packets: 'You already have cancer. Why not smoke?' Yet this only lasts so long and that's a problem.

Radiation is as invisible as the best terrorists, but it's far less focused and discriminatory in its attack. We expect terrorists to go unseen until they're either stopped or whatever event they're planning succeeds, but radiation acts on everyone all the time. We can't help but wonder why everyone in this film looks so healthy. Eventually we catch up with Varon, who has some severe radiation burns on his face, but he's a rarity because the outcome of radiation poisoning here is being forced to live in Tel Aviv, rather than necrosis, hair loss and vomiting. Apparently nobody ever gets worse. There are mental changes, Varon not being quite the man Layla remembers in some ways, but while these initially have promise they end up wasted in a bizarre battle scene that plays out like a Monty Python sketch. Other incidents come out of nowhere, like a sex scene and a beheading, and they all make the film seem like a work in subtlety that was given up on.

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