A Kafkæsque premise becomes vivid reality in “Aaron Cohen’s Debt,” originally made for Isræli television and now making the festival rounds in the U.S. Shot in Hebrew and subtitled in English, this feature directed by Amalia Margolin and scripted by Alon Bar tells the based-in-fact tale of a genial man arrested for missing a child support payment and forced to spend the night in jail despite the efforts of his family to free him. This seemingly minor inconvenience spirals out of control thanks to a medical condition and some unsympathetic jailers.
Aaron’s troubles begin at his own birthday celebration, where his smart mouth gets the better of him when police arrive on the scene to pick him up. Aaron is taken downtown for booking, but when his daughter shows up to pay the fine she learns that her father has been taken to another facility. Upon arriving at the second booking station, her attempts to pay the fine are rebuffed and she is told to return the next morning. Meanwhile Aaron has been confined to a cell with a half-dozen other detainees, some more violent and unstable than others. Aaron persists in making light of his situation and taunting his captors, certain that his release is imminent. But as it becomes clear he’s going nowhere soon, Aaron’s outlook turns desperate. He suffers from an ulcer, which is aggravated by the absence of his medication or any decent food to eat. As he grows sicker he begins to vomit, which does little to endear him to his cellmates. But despite his pleas, the jailers refuse to believe his condition is life-threatening.
Needless to say, “Aaron Cohen’s Debt” does not build to a warm and fuzzy conclusion. Though the story is scaled a bit small for a feature-length telling, director Margolin and screenwriter Bar effectively employ shifting perspectives and timelines to keep things interesting. What really fuels this grim cautionary tale, though, is the lead performance by Isræli actor Moshe Ivgi, who steers Aaron through a potential minefield of transitions, from devil-may-care to defiant to defeated, and never misses a beat.