Arts, culture & judaica | Israeli bank caper takes viewers on a wild journey

film review

One might expect “Hunting Elephants” to take us on a safari through the wilds of Africa or, hopefully, on a tamer expedition to photograph majestic inhabitants of a wildlife preserve.

But filmmaker Reshef Levi goes in a wildly different direction in his farcical adventure — a box-office hit in Israel that opened last summer’s Jerusalem Film Festival.

An unlikely foursome goes criminal in “Hunting Elephants.”

With a pair of top Israeli actors and the lovable British actor Patrick Stewart leading the way, along with a solid delivery by an ingénue teen and a strong supporting cast, “Hunting Elephants” has enough talent and performances to carry it along and keep our attention.

“Hunting Elephants” makes its Bay Area debut with a screening at 7:15 p.m. March 9 in Pleasant Hill.

Best described as a “caper” film that starts with a police lineup of old men and teenage boys after a bank robbery, the film goes back in time to follow one of the prime suspects, Yonatan (Gil Blank), a smart, social misfit whose father was an underemployed security officer at the bank who died while on the job.

When “fine print” in the bank’s insurance policy means no payoff or pension for the family, 12-year-old Yonatan and his mother are left in a financial bind. Making matters worse, the mom has no support network, so she turns to her father-in-law, Eliyahu, for money. The family hasn’t spoken to him for years, and the bad feelings are mutual.

Needless to say, the old man does not exactly greet them with open arms. When he turns down the mother’s request for money, she thrusts the boy toward him — admonishing the former Israeli freedom fighter that the least he could do is spend time with his grandson.

But Eliyahu (a gruff Sasson Gabai) lives in a senior residence and, worse, mourns his comatose wife, who lies in a unit full of other bedridden patients.

Despite their best efforts to tick each other off, the boy and grandfather gradually grow close, helped along by Eliyahu’s grizzled, sex-crazed best friend Nick (Moni Moshonov).

Enter Eliyahu’s brother-in-law, Lord Michael Simpson (Stewart), a dapper but destitute London actor who has learned his sister is in a coma and comes scheming for her money.

After some initial brush-ups and misfires, the foursome agree on at least one thing: They will rob the bank that did an injustice to Yonatan’s dad.

Though there are emotional moments here and there, “Hunting Elephants” is mostly playful and light. Stewart is hilarious at times and carries the film. The soundtrack is fun, too, with the likes of “Walking in the Rain” (made famous by Grace Jones) and “Ain’t We Got Fun?”

We even come to like sleazy bank manager Dedi, and we laugh along with the sensuous Sigi, a health care worker at the senior residence who massages the patients in the “coma room” to the delight of the aging, libidinous men who watch her through the window. Sigi (Rotem Zussman-Cohen), who appears throughout the film, vamps it up for the camera.

Which brings up a note of caution: Levi — a comic artist and TV series creator in Israel — portrays women as sex objects and plays to all kinds of stereotypes.

But his film is not to be taken seriously. It’s pure escapism, after all. — liz harris

“Hunting Elephants,” in Hebrew with English subtitles, and some English (107 minutes)

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is J.'s culture editor. She can be reached at