The Dune, which screened as part of the 24th New York Jewish Film Festival examines how two men, an investigator who lives in Paris and a repairman who lives in Israel finally confront a secret part of their lives and take a second chance at redemption, forgiveness and a new life. The choices we make in life determine our direction, self-satisfaction and happiness. Rarely do we have the opportunity for second chances, especially if we took risks in our decisions, “burned our bridges” and refused to look back, accumulating hidden regrets along the way.
The director Yossi Aviram begins his uplifting multi-genre indie, (quasi mystery, quasi drama), subtly focusing on a picture of a large sand dune, which dwarfs a young woman and three-year-old boy who stand in front of it. The story unfolds when we meet Hanoch (Lior Ashkenazi), a 40-something Israeli who scrapes out an existence as a bicycle repairman and apparently lives an uneventful, quiet existence. When Hanoch is not working, he socializes by playing chess with his friend Fogel (Moni Moshonov), he sits on a curb in front of a cafe contemplating the evening, and then he goes home to his wife who is pregnant. When he arrives home we see from the interchange between them that Hanoch’s and Yael’s (his wife), relationship is strained. Yael (Dana Adini) confronts him about her pregnancy. This is a discussion she apparently has attempted with him before, but to no avail.
This time, Hanoch gives her an answer: he is not ready for the responsibility of being a father. Yael tells him she will make arrangements to schedule an abortion. Her frustration and anger are apparent. Rather than to have the baby and gradually coax Hanoch into a reluctant fatherhood, she would rather be without a family and on her own without him.
Because of the fine acting by Ashkenazi and Adini, we intuit that her determination to get an abortion is something Hanoch had known was coming; it is why he’s withheld his feelings for as long as he could. The result is dire. She forces him to pack his belongings and evicts him from her life and their home. With nowhere else to go, Hanoch sleeps on the floor of his bicycle shop. Though his friend discovers his plight and suggests he can crash with him in the future, Hanoch abruptly closes his shop and jumps on his bicycle to travel to another place and time leaving the pain of lost fatherhood and responsibility of a spouse far behind him.
The scene shifts to the beauties of Paris. Ruben Vardi (Niels Arestrup), a missing-persons investigator, finally locates a famous author, Moreau (Mathieu Amalric), whose wife notified police that the author had disappeared. Vardi encounters Moreau who is living alone in a hotel room. In a positive exchange Vardi compliments him about his writing and Moreau agrees to allow Vardi to drive him back home. Vardi gives Moreau a few minutes to change and waits for him by his car.
Too late, Vardi realizes Moreau has tricked him. When he races upstairs and looks out the open window, down below he sees Moreau’s lifeless body. The author has chosen to end his pain and misery by jumping to his death. Vardi is devastated and goes home in a severe depression, questioning the purpose of his own life. Paolo (Guy Marchand), his partner attempts to console Vardi. When they are out looking for apartments, since the manager of their apartment has to give it to the sponsor who has come to Paris, Paolo is hopeful about a new start in a different place. From their relationship we sense that both men care for one another deeply, but Vardi’s depression might be founded on other issues or regrets that remain unresolved in his life and are unknown to Paolo.
Once again, Aviram redirects the story line back to Hanoch’s situation. We discover that Hanoch has now arrived in Paris. The filmmaker is spare in relating details which would give too much away as he focuses on the mystery that he wishes to unfold: Hanoch is following Vardi. What is his motive? Hanoch shadows Vardi to a neighborhood cafe, to a chess parlor and to various other places. We cannot help but note the irony that the investigator is being investigated; is there a missing person? Aviram’s “close-to-the-chest” storytelling is effective in maintaining our interest and anticipation. We are intrigued. We also wonder about the situation with these two men who do not know each other. What has it to do with the title of the film and the picture of the dune with the young woman and little boy in the opening shot.
Over the next week Vardi continues to suffer about his existence. Finally, he decides to put in his retirement papers over the objections of his supervisor who makes a deal with him. The supervisor will accept his papers but after he investigates the identity of a man who washed up alive on a beach one morning without an ID or passport and with only the article about Moreau’s suicide in his pocket. The man is in a hospital and the doctors and staff cannot assess whether he attempted suicide, whether he was previously on medication or whether he has an illness, for the man cannot or will not speak. He has remained mute.
Vardi agrees to the assignment. After telling Paolo about this last endeavor and postponing their travel plans, he visits the hospital where he meets Fabienne (Emma de Caunes), the woman who found the “missing person” who has no identity. Fabienne confers with Vardi and tells him the details of where she found the lost man. The case is an interesting one and Vardi is perplexed about why the man is mute and refuses to speak. Revitalized, Vardi visits the man with Fabienne and asks him questions, but the man remains silent. To help solve the mystery, Vardi visits the location where Fabienne found the gentleman. Vardi roams over the beach looking for revealing material clues and then he turns around. He sees a large mountainous dune.
It is then that Vardi has a revelation. However, he must find the proof that will clarify the man’s identity and get him to speak. Vardi’s depression lifts and his step lightens. He finds the information he needs to solve the identity of the mystery man. It is a resolution that even Paolo will be gratified to discover. By the film’s conclusion, Aviram has gradually brought together all the elements which remained just underneath the surface waiting to be unveiled. We understand Hanoch’s journey to Paris, Vardi’s depression, the reason why Paolo and Vardi had to move apartments, who the mystery man is and why he was reticent. Aviram has revealed just enough for us to figure out how all the pieces might fit, but he masterfully left out one crucial detail. It is this detail which when finally revealed allows us to put together the human portrait of love and sacrifice in a satisfying conclusion that will bring a new redemptive beginning for the main characters, Paolo, Vardi and Hanoch.
Aviram has teased out fine performances from principals Niels Arestrup, Guy Marchand and Lior Ashkenazi. The symbolism of the characters’ roles, an investigator of missing persons, a missing person found who has no apparent identity, provides the irony that enhances Aviram’s theme about relationships and love transcending time and distance. These are characters who are more profound than we initially anticipated. Aviram repeatedly reminds us throughout the film that human nature is a well that flows to unfathomable depths. Even the characters themselves find their own unconscious impulses surprising when behaviors rise up unexpectedly and decisions are made abruptly: Hanoch’s travel to Paris, Moreau’s suicide, Vardi’s depression, the mystery man’s silence.
The characters’ complexity is beautifully rendered by the actors especially Arestrup in his dour, grousing almost humorous “over-the-hill” frustration and regret and Ashkenazi’s mournful silences. In his first feature length film Aviram proves himself to be a methodical and clever cinematic storyteller. Aviram tantalizes his viewers with just enough information and visual interest to create vitality in a work that completely engages from beginning to end.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0292754698,B004GIN126,0813546303]