“It's hard work to be liberated in Hadas Ben Aroya's sometimes risqué, sometimes tender second feature, shown in Panorama"
If there is one thing that Hadas Ben Aroya's new Berlinale Panorama film, ALL EYES OFF ME, captures really, really well, it's that divide between trying to be liberated versus actually, truly being so. The people she shows may be young, walking around with that glittery Euphoria make-up on, but they have already tried it all, and if there is one pressure they pile on themselves, it's just that: being fine with everything that comes their way. Any sexual fantasy, any secret your partner might suddenly share, and if the hesitant facial expressions are sometimes slow to catch up with the carefully chosen words, so be it. They will get there eventually. Meanwhile, glitter will help.
The Israeli director opts for three chapters: loose scenes of people interacting, talking, sometimes saying what they really mean and sometimes just going with the flow, if that's what kids still say these days. One such scene involves Danny (Hadar Katz), pregnant by Max (Leib Lev Levin), who just started a thing with Avishag (Elisheva Weil). Max proceeds to tell Danny all about it at a party because, you know, they’re cool. Everyone tries to be, always, and the lowest you can stoop is to stalk your ex's Netflix's account, asking why he ain't watching that new Baumbach no more. Which is, it needs to be pointed out, an excellent idea.
Then you have the much older Dror (Yoav Hait), who asks Avishag to take care of his dog sometimes and one day finds her asleep in his bed. It's a mess, like in that old tune about “a guy named Joey, Joey goes with Moey, Moey goes with Jamie, and Jamie goes with Sadie, what a drag, what a drag”. But once the ear becomes accustomed to lines like, “We ran into each other and vibed,” it becomes apparent that Ben Aroya has made a very watchable film, with actors so comfortable in front of her camera and with each other that it's impossible not to relax a bit, too. She also reveals plenty of vulnerability that her characters fail to hide, especially when it comes to the men, so scared to share the fact that perhaps they like other guys, too, or embarrassed about their suddenly exposed body. There is one scene in particular that's almost cringe-worthy, not just because of that younger woman-much older man combo that doesn't fly any more, sorry, but because of Dror's complete defencelessness, which makes one want to continue watching through fingers until it's all over and done with. What should be tender feels very uncomfortable. It's interesting.
The same could be said for the film's exploration of sexual desire, as fantasies don’t always want to leap out of one’s head and jump into bed, it seems. Avishag wants to be hit during sex, she says. For real, too, as “it's worse to choke in a cowardly way than not choke at all”. But you can plan out the whole scenario, details and all – what you can't plan is your reaction to it. What should be satisfying feels very uncomfortable. And that's interesting, too.
The Israeli title All Eyes Off Me was produced by the director and Maayan Eden. Its world sales are by Best Friend Forever.