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Foul Gesture

As much as Foul Gesture indicts the hyper-violence of a Walking Tall, it also indulges in it.

Foul Gesture

Director: Tzahi Grad
Cast: Keren Mor, Gal Zaid, Asher Tsarfati, Ya'acov Ayaly, Ania Bukshtein, Tal Grushka, Rivka Michaeli
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: IFC Films On Demand
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2009-04-29 (Limited release)

"It's just a door." Michael (Gal Zaid) hears this more than once as he tries to decide how to respond to the loss of his car door to an angry driver one morning. The incident takes place one morning as he's driving his wife Tamar (Keren Moras) to work at a Tel Aviv hospital. When she impetuously gives the finger to a man honking his horn behind he hits the gas and almost takes her out along with the door. Tamar is frightened and immediately furious, demanding that Michael follow the offender. Instead, he sits in the driver's seat, unmoving and undecided.

It's this state of being that Michael goes on to contemplate and adjust in Foul Gesture, available as of 28 April on IFC Movies on Demand. His options are set up by the fact that the assailant is a local gangster, Danny Ben-Moshe, also known -- apparently odiously -- as Dreyfus (Asher Tsarfati). When Michael makes a report to the police, he's advised to proceed carefully: Ben-Moshe was once in the secret service, he's told, "when there weren't any inquiry commissions." The camera focuses closely on Michael's face as he learns that Ben-Moshe is considered a "hero," a door opened just a crack behind him to reveal another officer behind another desk. When Michael asks whether this means he should be afraid even to file a complaint, the man speaking to him leans forward to shut that door: "The system's falling apart," he confesses, "The police's hands are tied."

The door so prominent in the frame here is part of a visual and metaphorical pattern in Foul Gesture, as each of Michael's decisions becomes a portal into another set of limited choices. His efforts to reclaim a sense of control over his own life reveal that any previous sense was delusory. An engineer who once "computerized irrigation systems," he has for months been pursuing a longtime goal, to write. Tamar has been increasingly impatient with the burden this places on her -- the extra shifts she must take at the hospital, her lack of time with their young son David (Tal Grushka), and her nagging doubts regarding Michael's plan. He hasn't produced even the beginning of a manuscript, and when she asks about it, he blames her for not asking to see pages.

This circular argument, on top of repeated shots of Michael at his computer, tapping out melodramatic sentences, then deleting them, suggests their mutual resentment is of a piece with his immobility. This theme is underscored in the film's temporal frame, occurring as it does over Israel's series of memorial days -- Yom Hazikaron (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Fallen IDF Soldiers, and Yom Haatsmaut (Independence Day) -- each marked by a moment of stillness as a siren sounds. It is in fact the first of these moments, as Michael, David, and Tamar, like all other citizens, step outside their car to show respect, sullenly, as they've been arguing just before they hear the siren.

Each commemoration underscores for Michael his lack of participation in his nation's masculine trajectory, as does his wife's phone conversation with a friend. Pacing in and out of the dining room where he sits, as usual, motionless, Tamar laughs, "He went all pale, he froze! I wanted to kill him." Explaining that "Michael is a rationalist," she implicitly sets him in opposition to those "heroes" who have done violence, however irrationally, in order to support the cause -- whatever cause. In the face of such criticism and his own receding sense of self, Michael decides to fight back.

Though Michael's self-righteous determination never quite approaches that of, say, Kevin Bacon's in Death Sentence, their trajectories are chillingly parallel. When Ben-Moshe laughs him off the phone, Michael approaches him at the creepy underground club, Magic Garden, where Michael is plainly in over his head. As their dispute escalates, Michael uses a pipe to scratch Ben-Moshe's door, then taps his skeevy cop cousin Hashmonai (Ya'acov Ayaly) for a gun. He even goes so far as to bring little David along for a tense encounter with Ben-Moshe in a restaurant: surrounded by minions, the gangster blusters and threatens, while Michael's self-conscious performance is almost painful to watch.

Trying out possible responses to Ben-Moshe's denials and demands (he's not responsible for the missing door, he expects Michael to repay him for the damage to his door), Michael is caught between his self-image as justified avenger and his responsibility as a dad. The camera cuts to David's upturned face as the men posture against one another, suggesting that this is how such illogic and violence are perpetuated. Indeed, the boy is visibly thrilled by an ensuing action sequence, indicated by a brief shot of his tense smile in the back seat as his father careens their car in traffic, trying to elude armed thugs.

As much as Tzahi Grad's movie indicts the hyper-violence of a Walking Tall or a Death Sentence, it also indulges in it. As he reshapes his self-image, Michael almost out-machos Hashmonai, whose gaudy recklessness -- selling Israeli flags for black-market profit, pursuing any pretty girl he sees -- makes him a small-fish version of Ben-Moshe. But as Michael's exploits turn increasingly incoherent and reactionary, he is framed and delimited by one doorway after another. It remains unclear whether he's redeemed or damned.


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