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Woman Alive (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Starring Lihi Zemel, Iftach Rave, Sasha Okun, Dvora Bayana, Tali Agaronov, Ifat Paor, Alma Shi, Shalom Korem, Ran Cohen, Irina Abayev, Geva Ronen, Jessica Kratz, Musa and Liad.

Screenplay by Macabit Abramson.

Directed by Macabit Abramson.

Distributed by Chapter Two Films. 105 minutes. Not Rated.

It’s not easy to watch someone unraveling. In fairness, Israeli documentary filmmaker Macabit Abramson’s feature film debut is not supposed to be easy to watch. It is made to pull you out of your comfort zone. It shows you a fellow human being spinning out of control and eventually hitting rock bottom before she finally finds the possibility of redemption through her art and motherhood.

I apologize if mentioning that she finds a way forward seems like a spoiler, however without that simple hope, Woman Alive would be a very bleak look at the human condition indeed.

The film follows Shlomit (played by the director’s daughter Lihi Zemel), a young Jerusalem housewife and mother who is having a massive identity crisis. As she reaches 30 years old, she is unhappy in her somewhat passionless marriage. She feels unappreciated by her husband and that he doesn’t understand her – which honestly, he really probably doesn’t.

The cold hard fact is that it is not completely his fault, though. Shlomit is moody and needy and angry and desperate and lost. She has no self-esteem and doesn’t like to discuss her feelings. She has no idea who she is, so she relies on others to survive. She seems to equally crave and hate sex, and she uses it to make connections, which almost inevitably go awry.

So, one day she just walks away. (Literally walks, going to a neighboring town by foot). She has a bit of a breakdown and leaves her husband and her daughter behind as she tries to find herself. She has no plans. She has no money. She has no place to stay. She only has the clothes on her back and a few additional outfits in her backpack. She just surrenders to fate and hopes for the best.

She finds that Israel is a much more complicated place than she has experienced in her own limited middle-class existence. She hooks up with different situations which start out well enough for her, but eventually fall apart. These include staying with a caring waitress who eventually sends her on her way when she learns Shlomit left her husband and daughter, becoming an artist model for an older Russian painter who turns out to be abusive and cruel, but does help to ignite her interest in art, and even experimenting with homelessness, alcoholism and prostitution with a kindly mother and daughter who are hookers.

Zemel commits herself admirably to this flawed and desperate character, submitting herself to mistreatment and humiliation in character. It’s certainly a brave, raw and intimate performance.

I can’t exactly say that I liked the film – in fact, it is the kind of movie for which the term “liked” is rather disingenuous. It is a film which is supposed to make you uncomfortable, and that it does. However, it does have some fascinating things to say about the human condition.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: November 4, 2021.

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