“The Wonders,” a new feature film from Israeli director Avi Nesher, is part cops-and-robbers mystery, part fantasy romance, lots of fun and completely original.
On its face, the film is about Ariel, a young graffiti artist–cum-bartender who gets caught up in the strange case of a kidnapped rabbi-mystic who is being held, perhaps willingly, in an abandoned apartment across the street from his home in Musrara, an Arab-Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem. As Ariel attempts to solve the mystery, our hapless hero meets up with a detective who might not be a detective, a femme fatale who might be working for the other side, a bunch of haredi thugs and the ostensibly grieving family of the abducted holy man.
None of this does he understand, but in his endearingly bumbling way he takes the viewers on a madcap ride, complete with candlelit desert rituals and cartoon characters that come to life.
“The Wonders,” which screens at 7 p.m. March 8 in Pleasant Hill and 2:45 p.m. March 21 in Orinda, has been called a modern-day film noir, but that’s way too easy. It’s like calling a Coen Brothers film “noir” without mentioning that it also involves people walking down burning hallways and climbing up the sides of buildings.
“I’m just your average superhero,” our young artist objects at one point.
Oh, and the music is by Israeli mega-stars Hadag Nahash.
Just as Musrara itself stands at the intersection of the Ashkenazi and Mizrachi worlds, so does this film teeter on the edge of reality — and that’s not even counting the way-too-animated cartoons. Every icon is up for grabs: One character might scorn the “backward” Sephardic Jews, with their belief in miracle-working rabbis and magic spells, but secular Israelis are shown in the next breath to be just as irrational and, ultimately, clueless.
In one scene, the femme fatale, who is actually the kidnapped man’s sister-in-law, tries to persuade Ariel to join her highly irregular rescue efforts, while behind the two, a van full of Mizrachi men sing and dance wildly to the tunes of “Moshiach,” a much-parodied anthem of the national religious youth. So who’s crazy here?
It’s all in good fun, even when you don’t know it yet. — sue fishkoff
“The Wonders,” in Hebrew with English subtitles (112 minutes)