Feature film “a day like no other”: when life slips away

Always trouble with mourning: The Israeli film "A Day Like No Other" by Asaph Polonsky doesn’t take death seriously in a very serious way.

Grieving? Zooler (Tomer Kapon) and Eyal (Shai Avivi) find their own approach. Or not Photo: Temperclayfilm

One is plunged into the middle of the blackness. No picture, just a sentence, in white writing: The Shiv’a is over. The shiv’a is the traditional Jewish week of mourning that relatives observe when a loved one dies. The sentence, white on black, orients: Someone has died. But what comes next are scenes of disoriented people. Eyal Spivak (Shai Avivi) and his wife Vicky (Evgenia Dodina) wander through their lives like chickens with their heads cut off. Busy, without purpose or goal.

It is their son who has died, very young, of cancer. Vicky drives to the grave, Eyal is drawn back to the hospice where they last visited him. He is looking for a blanket, he says. He doesn’t find it. Instead, he steals the medical cannabis from the drawer of a dying man.

Even these brief connections have to be put together. The film itself, "A Day Like No Other," the debut of Israeli director Asaph Polonsky, shares the daylight disorientation of its characters – and runs around without a head. Of course, he shares it consciously. The film doesn’t mourn, it laughs. And makes you laugh.

What you see are scenes that at first seem funny. How Eyal hides the grass from the prying eyes of his wife, a doctor. How he fails to roll a bag with the grass. How he suffers from the neighbors’ noisy sex, window-slamming and yelling. The neighbors in general. Something is wrong in the relationship with them. Eyal smacks her once. This leads to a very violent argument with him.

There is something peculiar about the comedy of the film: it has slipped, as the parents rushing through their post-mourning days have slipped more than a little. The whole life, basically. They deny what happened. They do this and that. Vicky shows up unannounced at the school where she worked, wanting to teach again. The teacher who filled in for her is embarrassed.

Falling through the living room as an air guitarist

Eyal begins to form a bereavement group with Zooler, the neighbors’ faggot son, and the young daughter of a hospice patient. They are just incapable of grieving appropriately. Whatever that means, to grieve appropriately. But not falling around the living room for minutes like a crazy air guitarist, chasing, racing, as Zooler, the neighbors’ son, does.

All of this is played and shot with tempo and comic timing. Some cuts are irritatingly abrupt, first hardly any music, later much more. Everyone here, father, mother, neighbor’s son, patient’s daughter, is searching for feelings they know they should have. The film searches along, does not console.

"A day like no other". Directed by Asaph Polonsky. With Shai Avivi, Evgenia Dodina a.o. Israel 2016, 98 min.

Even and especially comedy is not comforting. It does not reconcile with what happened. In shrill contrast to everything that would be appropriate, it is itself a symptom. Polonsky is very serious about not meeting death with seriousness for long stretches of the film. Not because he denies the gravity of what has happened. Rather, he observes people who can’t go on living other than with desperate attempts at denial.

In the last third, the tone turns. Eyal and Zooler are at the cemetery, caught up in a gathering of mourners. A man remembers his sister, in poignant words. The film switches to this other story for a few minutes, so it slips again. But it slips noticeably differently. The man speaks out things that remained unspoken before. Perhaps this is where the healing can begin.

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