In Tel Aviv, two brothers kidnap a girl from a rich family in the aim that the ransom will cover their family's money problems.

Brothers seize screen in tense debut.

ISRAELI FILM FESTIVAL: Two brothers, Shaul and Yaki, live in Petah Tikva, a satellite town outside of Tel Aviv. Their family is a close one (and the siblings, nearly identical, seem almost telepathically bonded), but also in dire straits: their father, unemployed for months, has sunk into depression; their mother meets every challenge with tight-lipped denial. As a result, they’re sliding further into debt with each passing day, and in danger of losing their apartment.

by far the film’s greatest asset are its two leads

Despairing, the pair hit upon a solution: a girl from their high school, Dafna, comes from a wealthy family. Perhaps they could kidnap her, and demand a ransom? This notion, merely fanciful at first glance, is made possible by a stroke of good timing: having just turned 18, Yaki has been newly conscripted into the IDF for his national service. Which means he has a rifle"¦

What follows is horrifying in its plausibility, yet much of the power of this debut feature, from young Israeli writer-director Tom Shoval, lies in its deliberately uneasy reconciliation of drama and black comedy. For the boys’ plan does not go smoothly, to say the least.

For one thing, they don’t have a car—obliging them to carry out the actual abduction on a bus, in a scene of what can only be described as farcical intensity. Furthermore, they snatch her on a Friday, thus ensuring that their ransom demands go unheard (since none but the most impious of Jews will answer a telephone on the Sabbath). And Dafna, they soon discover, is anyway away from home so frequently that her family don’t even think to miss her"¦

As the hours pass, and the pair grow more desperate, their treatment of the girl becomes crueller and more arbitrary. Having concealed her in the bomb shelter beneath their own building—there was nowhere else to put her—they’re obliged to divide their time and partition their attentions between the normal life upstairs and the nightmarish scenario unfolding below. One sequence in particular, a family dinner, sees the tension drawn taut, as the brothers struggle to chat normally with their parents and some guests their mother has invited"¦ all the while wondering whether Dafna, whom they have gagged, might not be suffocating a few metres away.

Shoval handles this slippery tone with assurance remarkable in a first-timer, aided by some especially fine work from cinematographer Yaron Scharf, who also shot Joseph Cedar’s excellent Footnote, and who, shooting in widescreen, manages to imbue every detail of the physical space here, every stairwell and corner, with almost palpable dread. (Shlock-merchants like Eli Roth and Ti West could learn a lot from this film).

But by far the film’s greatest asset are its two leads, real-life brothers Eitan and David Cunio. Raw-faced, sullen, with the implacable gaze of the fanatic, they perform many of their scenes in complete silence, managing through body-language and the exchange of glances to convey the essential amorality of their characters.

Such is the condition of modern Israel that we’re invited to take every artistic expression as a manifestation of some broader national pathology. I’m not sure this is that, exactly: the gun, after all, is a symbol of potency for disenfranchised young men the world over. It is, however, a disturbing study of what the possession of arms both enables and permits, in terms of behaviour. Frankly, though, it’s hard to read a sequence like that dinner scene as anything but an intended metaphor for the divided, nearly schizophrenic nature of the Jewish state today. Where the illusion of normal life can be maintained only by a sustained, unblinking act of concentration.


1 hour 47 min