4/10 | 16.Nov.12
Adama meshuga’at | אדמה משוגעת | Sweet Mud
DIRECTOR: Dror Shaul | WRITER: Dror Shaul | CAST: Tomer Steinhof, Ronit Yudkevitz, Shai Avivi, Pini Tavger, Henri Garcin | Israel
Sweet Mud is writer-director Dror Shaul’s apparently semi-autobiographical coming of age story of a 12-year-old boy, Dvir, who lives with his 18-year-old brother and mentally unstable widowed mother on a kibbutz in 1974. Except that children did not live with their parents on kibbutzim then but rather with age cohorts in dormitories, and Shaul’s bitterness over that fact, coupled with his unresolved anger over the treatment of the individual in a resolutely communal society, is palpable and unfortunately led him to make an at times crudely schematic movie. It wasn’t enough for Shaul to show dispassionately how difficult it can be for a nonconformist, particularly a mentally unbalanced one, to live in a group setting where almost all life decisions are literally subject to prior group approval. Instead, Shaul paints the opposition of group to individual in the harshest black and white terms possible. For instance, the main antagonist isn’t just an insensitive brute; no, we’re introduced to him at the very beginning of the movie while he’s coaxing a calf in the dairy shed to perform fellatio on him. And so it continues: he’s boorish, vulgar, ill-educated, gruff, he beats up children and kills people’s pets out of spite and yet he’s a respected member of the kibbutz. Other kibbutzniks are petty, small-minded, hypocritical, judgmental, hypercritical.
It’s against this backdrop that Dvir’s coming of age story is told — he spends the movie getting ready for his age cohort’s communal bar mitzvah — and I’ve got to say that it’s not an inherently interesting story, at least not as shown in the dull episodic vignettes that Shaul gives us. Or maybe my difficulty with the movie lies instead with the actors. I don’t think the actor who plays Dvir, Tomer Steinhof, is particularly any good, and I really didn’t care for Ronit Yudkevitz whose acting as Miri, Dvir’s mother, was too studied and actressy, too by-the-books nutcase to make me feel anything but vague irritation. The other actors are fine if mostly unmemorable. Dror Shaul’s directing is marginally better than his writing. One thing I wondered while watching the movie is whether it acquired its English title to make it more appealing to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members — Sweet Mud was Israel’s entry for the Oscars — since a literal translation of the title actually fits the movie better: “crazy mud”. Or is “sweet mud” a poetic allusion that I’m just not getting?