Set in a Tel Aviv apartment house, director Amos Gitai's ensemble drama uses a mixed bag of storylines to evoke the craziness, and passion, of today's Israel. Extremely well-acted and generally absorbing, Alila still seems like a highly specialized item, whose deeper significance will only be understood by Israelis.

Hovering in and around the rather rundown building at the center of the tale are an adulterous duo whose loud lovemaking disturbs the neighbors; a battling divorced couple whose teenage son has recently deserted from the Israeli army; a Holocaust survivor who just wants to live out the rest of his life in peace and quiet, and a group of illegal Chinese day laborers who have been hired to expand one of the apartments, without legal permission.

Gitai cuts back and forth among these stories effortlessly, creating a frenetic portrait of a country filled with corruption, confusion and, yes, intense joie de vivre. It's a very Mediterranean atmosphere, in which everyone seems to love hard, hate with intensity and speak at the top of their lungs. Terrorism seems far away, although radio reports heard in the background of several scenes make it appear as if suicide bombings are an everyday occurrence. And even though there seems to be an important national election going on, not one character in the film is paying it any mind. (What the issues are, and who's running, are left unexplained.)

Ultimately, a not very pretty picture of Israeli society emerges. No one in Alila is particularly happy (the adulterous duo are downright miserable, and locked in an often violent relationship), and the social problems of illegal immigration and under-the-table business deals run rampant. There's also a feeling that the AWOL soldier represents a generation fed up with the constant insecurity of the Arab-Israeli standoff, one which just wants to pretend that normality, and the end of compulsory military service, is possible.

But these are things that will resonate most strongly with an Israeli audience. For the rest of us, Alila works best as an interesting drama filled with colorful characters. No more, no less.

-Lewis Beale