11 sep 2020

Rape, domestic violence, prostitution: the Israeli trilogy that’s gripping the nation

A mesmerizing triptych that deals with the subjects of emotional dependence, separation, rape and prostitution, Israeli director Yaron Shani’s three films “Chained”, “Beloved” and “Stripped” offer a fascinating insight into Israeli society. Released in movie theatres with a week’s interval at the start of July, the first two are followed by a third “Stripped”, selected by the 2018 Mostra, and set for release on September 23rd.

Watching Israeli filmmaker Yaron Shani's trilogy about male/female relationships in his home country – ChainedBeloved and Stripped – is like trying to piece together a puzzle made up of the fragments of shattered lives. Or like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with only three sides, each of which is independent, telling a different story, but nevertheless essential to the outcome of the other two.


Two films about breaking up


Reconstructing side A is discovering Chained, a film released in theatres on July 8th that follows the lives of Rashi (Eran Naim) and Avigail (Stav Almagor), a couple desperately trying to conceive. The man, a police officer in Tel-Aviv, is madly in love with his wife but prone to bouts of rage, notably directed towards Avigail’s 13-year old daughter from a previous relationship. Without pathos, Chained is about the journey of a profoundly loving man overtaken by unbearable pressures. Starting with his job, when he is accused of sexually assaulting a minor after carrying out a body search. Then within the family unit, as his wife becomes increasingly detached from him in a way that is blatantly irrevocable. 


The B side of this trilogy, Beloved – released on July 15th – opens with the same scene as the preceding film but from the woman’s perspective: Avigail is at a gynaecologist appointment with her husband Rashi. The doctor gives his diagnosis: the baby’s heart has stopped beating. After the tears, she returns to the old people’s home where she is a nurse and meets a woman Yael, visiting her dying father with her unhinged prostitute sister. Unlike Chained, which focuses on the couple, this second episode revolves around another duo formed by Avigail and Yael. It gives us the keys to understanding the first part of the triptych: discovering friendship, in the company of a loving woman and above all being listened to, opens the eyes of the protagonist as she realises she is not happy in her marriage.


Just like M by Yolande Zauberman – released in 2018 and awarded the César for best documentary – which denounced the brutality of paedophilia within the ultra-orthodox communities in the suburbs of Tel-Aviv, the trilogy by 47-year old Israeli director Yaron Shani is gripping the country. With a quasi-documentary approach – some of the actors aren’t professionals, some of the scenes were written because the actors actually experienced them, faces are blurred and we even witness an actual birth – the film maker delivers a biting vision of the society in which he grew up: a patriarchal society where sexual assault is the norm, but that nevertheless encourages female emancipation (even if escape sometimes lies in prostitution). 


Denouncing rape 


With Stripped, side C and the final chapter of this intimate trilogy, Yaron Shani pushes the drama to its climax. After the toxic and emotionally dependant relationship depicted in Chained, the beautiful picture of sisterhood painted in Beloved, he deals with the issues of rape and compulsory military service in Stripped. While there is no direct link with the first film, it is connected to Beloved via Alice, now the main character, who helped Yael’s sister, a sex worker in a Tel-Aviv brothel. In this movie we discover the writer Alice, plagued by a non-identified illness that we later realise is the after-effects of having been drugged and raped in her own home. 


Yaron Shani looks back at the hours preceding the attack: a few weeks earlier the young woman had met Ziv, a high school student who lives across the street. A highly talented musician, he plans to make a career out it before being violently rejected at an audition. Alice decides to make his story into a documentary but the young man is called up for military service… As well as denouncing rape and the self-isolation it provokes (the writer doesn’t leave home for days afterwards, shutters closed, refusing to speak to her loved ones as she tries in vain to reach victim assistance centres by telephone), the director, who was nominated for best foreign film Oscar with his thriller Ajami (2009) points a finger at the militarist state. As soon as he becomes a soldier, Ziv is constantly flanked by a machine gun and his behaviour completely changes. Yaron Shani’s description of an alienating modern society – all countries combined – portrays above all the male/female relationships made up of domination and perpetual violence.



Stripped (2020) by Yaron Shani, on general release from September 23rd.