Death and the maiden voyage: a fanciful, floating look at the afterlife

Friday, March 19, 2004 | by dan pine

You're old, you're dead and ready to sail for the afterlife. But before departing, you are given the choice: Spend eternity as you once were, young and sexy, or as you ended up, older and prunier, but much wiser.

That's the premise of "All I've Got," a taut one-hour Israeli TV drama making its Bay Area premiere at this year's Sonoma County Jewish Film Series on Thursday, March 25. It's one of five films — four Israeli, one Danish — in this year's lineup.

Writer/director Keren Margalit made her 2002 film for Israeli television's "Reflections of Women" series and won a best screenplay award at the FIPA-Biarritz Film Festival in France.

It certainly deserves accolades for imagination.

"All I've Got" begins on a stretch of Israeli highway in 1955. Two young lovers, Uri and Tamara (Amit Arieli and Silvia Tsheshnivska), have crashed their car and lie in the wreckage, bleeding. Uri dies, but Tamara survives, crying, "He's all I've got!"

Cut to the dearly departed Tamara, age 73 (played with exquisite restraint by Leah Shlenger), walking the ghostly docks of the afterlife. There, cruise ships wait to ferry the dead to the great beyond. A cheery angel informs Tamara that someone is waiting for her on board.

That someone turns out to be Uri, who gave up a ticket to paradise to wait for his beloved. Victor, the ship's captain, played masterfully by Igal Naor, then presents the Hobbsian choice to Tamara. Though she loves her husband and children, the sight of Uri proves too much. She opts to spend eternity as a randy young beauty, all memory of life after the accident erased forever.

Right on cue, Tamara's aged husband David (Nathan Cogan), who committed suicide to be with his wife, shows up. He blusters his way onto Tamara's ship, upsetting the space-time continuum with his Israeli chutzpah. Heaven can wait, as young Tamara is given 45 minutes, memories revived, to make a final irrevocable choice.

Tamara's tortured path to making her final decision propels the story to its ultimately satisfying, though perhaps not unexpected, conclusion.

Margalit's floating purgatory looks comically familiar, right down to the cluttered desks, cheesy discos and high-calorie snacks. Even upon docking at the next world, all departing souls on board have dorky angel wings clipped on their backs.

The director lights her sets and actors in an eerie metallic half-light, with sharp blues and oranges lending just the right touch of unreality. Shot on a real ship with a hand-held camera, Margalit takes her nautical metaphor close to the line of credulity but not to the point of running aground (unlike this nautical metaphor).

More importantly, she elicits wondrously nuanced performances from her cast. Tsheshnivska is fetching as the young Tamara, and even more so playing old Tamara trapped in the younger version of herself.

When young Uri caresses old Tamara, and old David re-seduces young Tamara, conventional wisdom about age, beauty and true love falls away.

Ultimately, of course, Margalit's movie is not about the dead, but the living, posing to the audience questions one should ask before, not after, death. Whether or not anything awaits us on the other side, "All I've Got" should leave anyone with a pulse with plenty to think about.




"All I've Got" screens at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Series, 4 and 7:15 p.m., Thursday, March 25, Rialto Cinemas Lakeside, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Tickets: $8-$9. Information: (707) 528-4222 or www.jcagency.org.