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Or

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Or

Director: Keren Yedaya
Runtime: 100 minutes
Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Dana Ivgi, Meshar Cohen

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Though much happens before, after, and between them, two scenes set the boundaries of the world explored by Or, the accomplished first film of director and co-writer Keren Yedaya. In the first, Ronit Elkabetz, a depressive woman who resumes her career as a streetwalker whenever she's not locked up, greets her landlord. Late with the rent, she offers to pay her debt in sexual favors, an offer he's obviously taken up before. He pauses, considers her sagging belly and desperate air, and passes. Later, Elkabetz's daughter Or (Dana Ivgi) makes the same offer, and meets with no hesitation: Her taut flesh and confidence make it a quick, smooth transaction, and rent becomes a concern for some other month.

Ivgi and Elkabetz live in a Tel Aviv in which female sexuality functions as both currency and curse. Ivgi is a promising student and a fastidious caretaker for her unstable mother. Her slow drift into Elkabetz's profession may not, by the film's reckoning, be fait accompli, but the circumstances conspiring against her make it the next closest thing. Ivgi works hard at a food stand to make ends meet. She uses sex to blow off steam, and she gets a thrill from the power it gives her over boys. But her natural curiosity earns her a reputation that, in the film's most heartbreaking scene, comes back to haunt her. Interrupting a conference between Elkabetz and the mother of Ivgi's new boyfriend, Ivgi clearly registers the exact moment when the possibility of love abandoned her forever.

For long stretches, Or is a dialogue-heavy kitchen-sink drama, but its naturalistic style and unselfconscious performances give it an intensity that only builds as it progresses. Without a suggestion of melodrama, it captures an everyday tragedy. There's no grand eruption of violence to draw the story to a close, just the wrenching sight of a bright young woman assuming the place economics, sexual mores, and perhaps fate carved out for her before she was born.
Filed Under: Film

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