Life According to Agfa | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Life According to Agfa

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What's so intriguing about this 1992 black-and-white feature by Assaf Dayan, the pacifist son of war hero Moshe Dayan, is the unusually frank glimpse it offers of Israeli society today. Over the course of a long night, people from various walks of life--macho soldiers, hookers, suicidal cokeheads, oppressed Arab cooks, undercover cops--congregate in a Tel Aviv bar called Barbie. They're a depressing bunch: bitter, disillusioned, constantly at each other's throats. Presiding over the bleakness are the owners: the middle-aged, bored Dalia (Gila Almagor in a nuanced portrayal), who's looking for companionship, and her younger partner Leora, an obsessive photographer (hence the movie's title) who's on the verge of breaking up with her promiscuous cop boyfriend. Obviously Dayan is trotting out these doomed characters to underscore his own despair over how Israel has lost its purpose, cohesion, and vitality. But his narrative strategy, self-consciously patterned after Robert Altman's, is too discursive to pack much of an emotional wallop, and he resorts to an apocalyptic finale, an implausible denouement that muddles the drama if not the message. Still, by harshly criticizing Israeli life and bringing to the fore the country's smoldering social tensions, Dayan has achieved a breakthrough of sorts. His ambivalence toward his homeland and compatriots is poignantly expressed by the sound track, which juxtaposes world-weary Leonard Cohen ballads with sarcastic twists on patriotic anthems. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, August 21, 4:00, 443-3737.

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