“Avishai, are you dead?”
With those words, the darkly funny plot of “Stockholm,” a television miniseries from Israel’s Keshet production house, is set in motion. Based on a novel by Noa Yedlin, the series will be shown in its entirety, four 40-minute episodes, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 3 and 2:40 p.m. Friday, March 8 in the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival.
When Zohara (Liora Rivlin) and three old friends learn that another in their tight-knit circle has died, at first they’re sad — but not too shocked. After all, Avishai, a famous economist with a broken couch, celebrity friends and more than a few lovers, wasn’t young — he was 70 years old, just like the rest of them. But then they find out that Avishai was about to win the Nobel Prize. Since a person has to be alive the day the Nobels are announced in order to win, they concoct a plan to conceal his passing for a few days so he can still be a laureate, even if a dead one.
But the farcical situations the four get into while keeping the fiction going are just the scaffold for a bleak but humorous take on human nature, exposed with familiar Israeli bluntness. Old jealousies return, secrets come out, self-deceptions are deflated, underhand plans are made and plots fail, and all the while Avishai gets stiffer and stiffer.
Zohara gets in trouble for swearing at an ancient Holocaust survivor who grabs her breast. Amos (Sasson Gabai, “The Band’s Visit”), a less successful academic, can’t hide his inferiority complexes about sex and work. Yehuda (Doval’e Glickman, “Shtisel”) comes up with ever-more-outlandish ideas for keeping Avishai “alive,” for his own private reasons, while fending off his wife. Nilli (Tikva Dayan), divorced and enjoying a lusty sex life, deals with things by ignoring the bad. “We’re 70 years old,” she says. “The truth is a nuisance.”
Visually, “Stockholm” is nothing special, but the acting chops of these four film and theater veterans (five if you include Gidi Gov, who may have the hardest job in playing Avishai) elevate it to a higher level than the TV-style staging.
Like most Israeli shows, “Stockholm” doesn’t shy away from pushing the boundaries in its humor, which punctures the self-importance, casual racism and pretentions of the Tel Aviv intellectuals and strivers at its center. Age, and even death, may have touched this group of friends, but they’re not wise and they’re not mature — they’re just people, as foolish and proud and disillusioned as they’ve ever been.