One Week and a Day [subtitled]

One Week and a Day is an Israeli film that takes place right as the shiva mourning period is drawing to a close in a Jewish household.

The residents of this apartment are a middle-aged couple, Eyal and Vicky. Their teenage son has just died of cancer.

Among the others with prominent roles in the movie are the couple next door and especially their own teenage son, who is three years older than the boy who died. The couple, we learn, are people who had been friends with the mourning couple but who apparently were uncomfortable about the son’s illness and so kept away and let the friendship fade. They show up at the shiva at the very end, and Eyal and Vicky, especially Eyal, give them the cold shoulder. The discomfort and iciness remain throughout the movie.

The neighbor youth also had pulled back, but you get the impression that might not have been directly related to the cancer. The two boys had been close friends growing up, but apparently the older one pretty much broke that off some time earlier. Asked why, he shrugs and comments that it’s not cool for a ninth grader to hang out with a sixth grader. Just a simple, mundane, kid social thing. He shows more genuine regret about it than do his parents, though, and makes more of an effort to make amends and show compassion toward Eyal and Vicky, even if it might be too little, too late by now.

Eyal and Vicky grieve alike in some ways and differently in some ways. They both appear shell-shocked. We don’t see either smile. Both are taciturn and disinclined to communicate. They can be a bit edgy with each other to where one will occasionally snap at the other, but there’s not much passion behind it and it’s not sustained. On the other hand, they don’t talk to each other in any deep way about their emotions and what they’ve experienced, and they don’t verbally console and support each other. I’m not sure if that’s just the kind of people they are and the nature of their relationship—that they don’t open up and talk about emotions—or if they have already done all that and are talked out and we are seeing a later stage in the process of their reacting to the death of their son. The little we do see of their behaving more positively or supportively with each other is almost wholly non-verbal.

Of the two, Vicky is somewhat more inclined to deal with their situation and with the closing of the shiva period by getting back into their routines and allowing the distractions of regular life to start the process of moving on from the tragic death of their son. So she, for instance, immediately returns to her job as a schoolteacher (earlier than expected, it turns out—the school had already assigned a substitute to her class, leading to plenty of awkwardness). She wants to keep her dental appointment, to keep the household going, pay the bills, make sure they arrange with the cemetery the details of what plots they will ultimately have near their son, etc. She’s holding things together, she’s being responsible.

She also, of the two, more consistently holds her pain inside. As I say, they both are just kind of drifting along in shock, minimally communicating with each other or anyone, but there’s still a sense in which Eyal shows his grief more.

He’s not ready to return to a routine. He puts off returning to work at his shop. You have the sense that for him this period of grief in the immediate aftermath of their son’s death isn’t over yet, that there’s something more—he knows not what—that needs to happen now for there to be any closure, for him to be able to move on.

That turns out to be an unexpected development of a friendship of sorts between him and the boy next door. The boy is kind of a goofy sort, open and genuine, spontaneous, good-hearted, a lover of life and adventure. Eyal seems to sense that his much younger neighbor has something he needs right now, something he needs to be around. For that matter, the boy, who evidently has a mediocre at best relationship with his own stuffy parents, seems to crave a figure like Eyal in his life. Again, there are no deep conversations, no smiles or laughs from Eyal, yet you sense that this is an important connection for both of them, sort of as buddies and sort of as replacement father and replacement son.

Definitely one of my favorite of the characters is a little girl, about 10, who seems to pretty much always be at the hospice where the deceased son spent the final period of his life. Her mother is there, evidently also dying of cancer. Yet she is very cheerful and upbeat, and clearly fond of Eyal. (She refers at one point to his son having been her best friend at the hospice.) There is a sequence where she, Eyal, and the neighbor teen hang out together and share some powerful experiences. She is adorable and steals every scene she is in.

In style, One Week and a Day reminds me a bit of Jojo Rabbit. It doesn’t have the same kind of surreal elements or slapstick elements, but it similarly combines very serious and emotionally powerful issues with humor.

On the one hand, I found the movie and the characters genuinely likable, and it’s a movie I felt some emotional connection with and rooted for. On the other hand, there were certain respects in which I just didn’t feel in sync with it.

I think some of that is the subtitle issues. I’ve noticed especially with humor that that extra step, that extra effort, of reading the dialogue causes a subtle disconnect where the timing is a little off, the nuance of how the facial expressions, the body language, the tone of voice, etc. line up with the words is lost. Even foreign language comedies that I liked—The Boss of it All comes to mind—still can somehow lose something in translation for me.

So with this movie, there are certain whimsical bits of humor, witty lines, etc., and while at some level I could appreciate them, there also was a sense in which it felt like something was missing.

Maybe not all of it is the psychological factor of the subtitles. I think there are probably some elements of the film that don’t work, regardless—I’m just saying as a very subjective thing, for me.

Like, there’s a long sequence where the youth from next door is playing air guitar. I wouldn’t be surprised if many viewers would single that out as a particularly entertaining and upbeat scene, one of the best and most attention-grabbing of the movie. I, though, thought that it fell flat. It didn’t feel real to me.

There were multiple scenes like that, where my thought was that I see what they’re trying to do here, and in the abstract I can kind of see how it fits and could be a positive, and I appreciate the effort, but somehow it just doesn’t come together.

For example, when Eyal, his young friend from next door, and the little girl are together, some of that works quite well but some of it seems forced and ineffective to me. I’m thinking especially of when the three of them pantomime performing surgery on her mother. It’s supposed to be a heartwarming and memorable scene, and to some extent it is, but it feels like maybe the film is aiming too high, trying too hard for that effect in a way that isn’t fully genuine and doesn’t flow naturally from the story. (Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of viewers identified this very scene as among their favorites.)

So I’m mixed on One Week and a Day. In the end the movie as a whole reached me emotionally and won me over in a way that only some of the parts of it did. While I was watching it there were times it took some effort to maintain my concentration on it—so I wasn’t consistently engrossed in it to the extent I usually am with movies I like—but once I could kind of step back and look at it in retrospect I was glad I had spent this time with this story and with these characters, and I felt like it pretty clearly deserved a thumbs up.

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