Yaniv Image


By Alan Ng | November 24, 2023

We’ve all been in that situation when we need to get our hands on a lot of money…and fast. Filmmakers Ben Ducoff and Ammon Carmi take us into the seedy world of the underground card room in their comedy/thriller, Yaniv.

Bernstein (Ben Ducoff) is a passionate high school teacher in the Bronx. In charge of the school’s theater program, this year’s production of Little Shop of Horrors is about to be shut down due to district budget cuts. Bernstein needs $10,000 and fast.

As luck would have it, Bernstein stumbles across the exclusive New York Yaniv Club run by Mendy (Adam B. Shapiro), the Hasidic Jewish owner of the North American Table Games corporation. For the uninitiated (like me), Yaniv is a gin-style game played for money, where four players are dealt five cards, and like gin, pick up and discard cards in your hand each round. The goal is to have a hand of lesser value than seven. Now add a dozen rules to screw with getting there, and you have Yaniv.

Overhearing Bernstein’s plan is his fellow teacher, Jonah (Eli Bos), who tells Bernstein he will be destroyed as Yaniv is not a game of luck but tracking your opponents’ progress. Over the years, Jonah has become a high-skilled card counter, and Bernstein begs Jonah to go with him to the game, and he’ll stake him. To avoid any appearance of collusion at the table, Jonah must be disguised as a devout Hasidic Jew with a Homburg hat, full beard, and payot to complete the disguise.

“As luck would have it, Bernstein stumbles across the exclusive New York Yaniv Club…”

Yaniv is reminiscent of an indie version of Rounders (a movie that spurred my gambling addiction and the best five years of my life). Taking place over a single night, Yaniv accomplishes two goals. The first is to immerse us fully into the underground world of Yaniv. Don’t be mistaken. This sect of ultra-orthodox Judaism is serious about the game, the money, and the fair play. This isn’t your mother’s monthly game of Bridge. The adrenaline flows fiercely in this game of luck and strategy, and even the appearance of cheating can lead to dire consequences.

Like Rounders, Yaniv is about Bernstein, a teacher who loves his students and is willing to go the extra mile to come through on the promise of producing a high school musical. His motivations are pure, and his passion is full. When things go wrong, it’s his student on his mind.

Balancing off Bernstein’s passion is Jonah’s reinvigorated gambling addiction. Having lived a “sober” life with his wife, Emma (Rachel Luciani), and their unborn child, Bernstein had no idea the beast he was about to unleash his friend.

Of course, there’s a love interest for Bernstein in Deb (Annabel Steven), who helps Bernstein prepare for the school’s production. I only bring this up as the filmmakers employ an ingenious low-budget indie trick that answers the question, what do you do when you can’t afford the music right for a Broadway play…you rewrite the musical.

Yaniv is a fun and funny thriller with a lot of heart. Ducoff and Carmi take us on a fun adventure into a world no one outside New York knew existed. The pair balances this fun with a sense of danger, keeping this comedy grounded enough to take its plot seriously. There’s also a cast of “wacky” characters in Mendy and the Rebbe (Amnon Carmi) to keep us on our toes.

Though I wanted to get a sense of how the high-paced game of Yaniv is played from a strategic standpoint (like Rounders…sorry to keep bringing this up), the story of a teacher risking his life for his students wins out in the end.

Yaniv (2023)

Directed: Amnon Carmi

Written: Amnon Carmi, Ben Ducoff

Starring: Ben Ducoff, Eli Bos, Annabel Steven, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

Yaniv Image

"…a fun and funny thriller with a lot of heart."

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  1. Ken says:

    Congratulations Lisa and cast!!! Can’t wait to see it!!!

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