Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Aliyah

A subtly effective drama-cum-thriller from budding auteur Elie Wajeman.

June 13, 2013

-By Jordan Mintzer


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1378588-Aliyah_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A slow-burning street drama set in the gritty confines of northeast Paris, Aliyah represents an intriguing and well-realized feature debut for writer-director Elie Wajeman. Reminiscent of the early films of James Gray, this brooding portrait of a Jewish drug dealer caught between family ties and dreams of a better life is backed by strong lead performances from a cast of relative newcomers, including an impressive turn by French auteur Cédric Kahn ( Red Lights).

Alex (Pio Marmai) is a low-level hashish dealer who has a hard time refusing the demands of his older bro, Isaac (Kahn), a smooth-talking freeloader forever in need of a loan. Stuck in a rather dismal working-class neighborhood in Paris’ 19th arrondissement, Alex eventually sees a way out when his cousin (David Geselson) tells him about plans to open up a restaurant in Tel Aviv. But before he can accomplish his “aliyah” (the term for Jews who immigrate back to Israel), Alex needs to both save up sufficient funds and rediscover his roots, for which he takes Hebrew lessons with his ex-girlfriend (Sarah Le Picard) and delves into his family’s past.

As the departure date nears, two major monkey wrenches are thrown Alex’s way: Not only does he begin to grow attached to the sultry student Jeanne (Adèle Haenel), but Isaac keeps coming back for more money, emotionally blackmailing his brother into giving away his coveted savings. Forced to start dealing coke in order to cover his travel plans, Alex needs to make it out of Paris before the walls close in around him.

A graduate of the prestigious French film school La Femis, Wajeman maintains a consistently dark tone throughout the narrative (co-written with Gaëlle Macé of Leaving), which is less of a fervent race-against-the-clock than it is a moody character study with a slight genre hitch to it. While guns are never drawn and the violence is mostly of the verbal kind, Alex nonetheless becomes a hero whose quest to escape the ’hood is not without a certain underlying tension and a few minor twists.

Having already showcased his talents in the comedies Delicacy and A Happy Event, Marmai aptly portrays Alex as a lost soul whose pipedream of moving abroad is really just a way to escape his own demons—something that Jeanne points out in a poignant café scene which happens late in the film. And while Alex seems to embrace Judaism only so he can obtain a visa and skip town, there’s something deeper and darker at work in his character’s efforts to both push his family aside and connect with his origins.

As the troubled Isaac, Kahn manages to turn everyone’s worst nightmare of an older brother into someone to be pitied, and Wajeman is particularly skillful at obscuring the lines between right and wrong, setting his story in a dog-eat-dog world whose moral compass is slightly askew.

Widescreen cinematography by David Chizallet vividly captures the bleak housing blocks where Alex does his deals, and from where the swankier parts of Paris are but blurred lights in the distance.
The Hollywood Reporter


Film Review: Aliyah

A subtly effective drama-cum-thriller from budding auteur Elie Wajeman.

June 13, 2013

-By Jordan Mintzer


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1378588-Aliyah_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A slow-burning street drama set in the gritty confines of northeast Paris, Aliyah represents an intriguing and well-realized feature debut for writer-director Elie Wajeman. Reminiscent of the early films of James Gray, this brooding portrait of a Jewish drug dealer caught between family ties and dreams of a better life is backed by strong lead performances from a cast of relative newcomers, including an impressive turn by French auteur Cédric Kahn (Red Lights).

Alex (Pio Marmai) is a low-level hashish dealer who has a hard time refusing the demands of his older bro, Isaac (Kahn), a smooth-talking freeloader forever in need of a loan. Stuck in a rather dismal working-class neighborhood in Paris’ 19th arrondissement, Alex eventually sees a way out when his cousin (David Geselson) tells him about plans to open up a restaurant in Tel Aviv. But before he can accomplish his “aliyah” (the term for Jews who immigrate back to Israel), Alex needs to both save up sufficient funds and rediscover his roots, for which he takes Hebrew lessons with his ex-girlfriend (Sarah Le Picard) and delves into his family’s past.

As the departure date nears, two major monkey wrenches are thrown Alex’s way: Not only does he begin to grow attached to the sultry student Jeanne (Adèle Haenel), but Isaac keeps coming back for more money, emotionally blackmailing his brother into giving away his coveted savings. Forced to start dealing coke in order to cover his travel plans, Alex needs to make it out of Paris before the walls close in around him.

A graduate of the prestigious French film school La Femis, Wajeman maintains a consistently dark tone throughout the narrative (co-written with Gaëlle Macé of Leaving), which is less of a fervent race-against-the-clock than it is a moody character study with a slight genre hitch to it. While guns are never drawn and the violence is mostly of the verbal kind, Alex nonetheless becomes a hero whose quest to escape the ’hood is not without a certain underlying tension and a few minor twists.

Having already showcased his talents in the comedies Delicacy and A Happy Event, Marmai aptly portrays Alex as a lost soul whose pipedream of moving abroad is really just a way to escape his own demons—something that Jeanne points out in a poignant café scene which happens late in the film. And while Alex seems to embrace Judaism only so he can obtain a visa and skip town, there’s something deeper and darker at work in his character’s efforts to both push his family aside and connect with his origins.

As the troubled Isaac, Kahn manages to turn everyone’s worst nightmare of an older brother into someone to be pitied, and Wajeman is particularly skillful at obscuring the lines between right and wrong, setting his story in a dog-eat-dog world whose moral compass is slightly askew.

Widescreen cinematography by David Chizallet vividly captures the bleak housing blocks where Alex does his deals, and from where the swankier parts of Paris are but blurred lights in the distance.
The Hollywood Reporter
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Amira & Sam
Film Review: Amira & Sam

A potentially intriguing interracial love story between an ex-soldier and Middle Eastern lass feels much too forced and contrived. More »

The Devils Violinist
Film Review: The Devil's Violinist

The latest classical-music legend to have his life trashed–again—by a cheaply sensationalistic movie, this famed fiddler deserved way better. More »

Backstreet Boys
Film Review: Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of

The ’90s boy band dusts itself off for a self-congratulatory, and not especially revelatory, career retrospective on the occasion of their 20th anniversary tour. More »

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts 2015
Film Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Documentary

The long shadow and in-your-face reality of mortality shadows nearly all the entries in this year’s powerful, draining Oscar-nominated documentary short films program. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Project Almanac
Film Review: Project Almanac

Saying this underbaked Chronicle knockoff is meant for teenagers is an insult to the intelligence of teenagers everywhere. More »

The Wedding Ringer
Film Review: The Wedding Ringer

Intermittently amusing bro-comedy trifle that confirms Kevin Hart's talent, though not his taste in material. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here