Tel Aviv Stories (DVD)
Directed by Ayelet Menachemi and Nirit Yaron
Promoted as "Israel's biggest box office smash," Tel-Aviv Stories is a movie that can't quite stand on its own away from its homeland.
A Hebrew Trilogy
Tel-Aviv Stories was originally released in 1992 and it now makes its way to NTSC-compatible DVD. The movie tells three short stories, each roughly 35 minutes long and each centered on the escapades of an independent woman dealing with relationship problems in her own special way.
In the chapter entitled Sharona, Honey, the incredibly beautiful Yael Abecassis (Miss Entebbe) plays a photo assistant juggling her career and her men. A wannabe player, she's mostly successful at winning the guys, getting them addicted to her, then breaking their hearts by failing to commit to a more serious relationship. All things come back on her, though, as the men converge on her, in search of her non-existent heart. Without giving anything away, it's only appropriate the final shot of this episode is of Sharona riding on the back of a garbage truck.
Next up is Operation Cat, a silly story about Sofie (Ruthy Goldberg), the typical cute, but nerdy, journalist girl hiding behind oversized glasses. She's distraught over her cheating husband, but more importantly, she's obsessed with rescuing a kitty cat trapped in a sewer.
Finally, Divorce tells the tale of Tiki (Anat Vaxman, Leylasede), a Hell-bent policewoman in search of a divorce. A good cop gone comically psycho, she takes an unlikely assemblage of characters hostage in her quest for romantic liberation.
Lost in Translation
The best thing about Tel-Aviv Stories is that it's a look at something not often seen in mainstream American media: The Israeli film as entertainment. Unfortunately, this is not the movie to inspire treks back to the video store in search of more such titles.
The main actresses are talented enough to shine in the spotlight, but even so, at a mere half-hour per story, it can be a long haul to make it from episode to episode. The cultural references, particularly one jarring jab at the Yiddish language, indicate this is something of an irreverent comedy. Also adding a daring, almost "cutting edge" flavor are Sharona and her harem of men, who can be particularly foul mouthed and frank.
Ultimately, though, there isn't enough here for those not in the know to stay hooked.
The DVD features menus in Hebrew and in English. Also included are a very cheesy "trailer" for Tel-Aviv Stories and biographies (in English only) of the directors and the lead management of Dream Entertainment. The biographies are not without a typo or two.
Picture and Sound
The Hebrew and English versions presented on the DVD appear to be nothing more than transfers from VHS editions. The only thing remarkable about the DVD's full screen presentation is that the Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is remarkably weak.
The Hebrew presentation is haunted by background noise that, once detected, can be quite distracting. Also, for those fluent in Hebrew, they have no choice but to watch the movie with English subtitles, another indication the DVD's versions of the film are nothing more than tape transfers.
While the English-dubbed version has cleaner sound, it suffers from the typical problems associated with dubbed films. The voices don't always match the actors' physical attributes and, while they are perhaps slightly above average, the vocal performances still leave a lot to be desired.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.