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By Pete Vonder Haar | April 27, 2005

Some years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who had recently returned from Tel Aviv. We briefly discussed the situation there (which mostly consisted of me offering my ill-informed opinions on the prospects of peace in the Middle East) until finally I commented that I really couldn’t imagine what it must’ve been like to live there. His response? “No, you can’t.”

Such is the problem we’re presented with in Haim Bouzaglo’s “Distortion.” Set in present-day Israel, near Jerusalem, the film is less about the Intifada itself than it is about the difficulty of simply living your life in a place where you could, quite literally, be blown up at any moment.

Bouzaglo plays Haim, a playwright suffering from writer’s block and dealing with the guilt at having left his neighborhood café moments before it was destroyed by a suicide bomber. Tensions aren’t helped by the prolonged absences of his girlfriend Anat, a documentary filmmaker who Haim begins to suspect is screwing around on him. So convinced is he of this that he hires Avi, a private detective, to follow Anat on her job. Avi does so, with the unforeseen side effect of the sudden inspiration it affords Haim, who begins writing a new play based on the events in his own life.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s this Intifada thing going on. Scenes of Haim writing and blocking his new play are interspersed with those of a terrorist, plastic explosives belt concealed beneath a Polo t-shirt with an American flag on it, as he cases various establishments in search of a target. His presence is felt throughout the film, though not specifically, as each of the characters tends to drink or drug too much and are prone to various stress-induced tics and mannerisms. Bouzaglo increases the tension through the use of jump cuts and discordant noise cues.

The techniques are effective, for the most part, until the final third of the movie. This is about the time Bouzaglo decides to trot out each of his characters’ sexual peccadilloes. Two of the actors in the play are having an affair, while the lead is given to soliciting gay street hustlers. Haim himself is comparatively low key, contenting himself with sniffing Anat’s panties as a means to assuage his loneliness, but it’s all unnecessary given the very real drama going on around them and our anticipation at what’s going to happen when Anat and her new boyfriend see their antics recreated on the stage.

For all that, the broader themes of fatalism and powerlessness are put across very effectively in “Distortion.” Bouzaglo quite capably conveys to the audience a small taste of what it must be like to try and live one’s life surrounded by violence and uncertainty. And frankly, a small taste is probably all that most of us would care to have.

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