Starring: Sivan Noam Shimon, Hadas Jade Sakori, Dvir Benedek, Amit Muchtar
Director: Michal Vinik
For every person who had good teenage years, there's another who had terrible ones. In Blush, an Israeli indie film that charmed last year's festival circuit, we are shown what happens when two girls from opposite ends of this spectrum are thrown together, with explosive results for them and everyone around them.
Naama (Shimon) is going through a difficult time at home, struggling with her volatile anti-Palestinian father (Benedek). Showing signs of rebellion at school, she conceals her insurgence at home, where she initially appears the model child. But when she meets the free-spirited Dana (Sakori), she yearns to both be with and be like her. Introduced to a hazy world of drink, drugs and sex, Naama thinks she has found her true self, which is a long way from what her family want her to be. And as her parents try to track down her missing sister, she drifts further and further from them as her rebellion becomes more and more obvious.
Obviously, coming-of-age films nowadays are ten a penny, but what Blush is trying to show that would set it apart from its peers, is the difficulty Naama has in being heard. Aesthetically, Blush looks no different from its European or American equivalents, but contextually, it is significantly different. The chasm between generations is vast. Where the young people are the universally recognisable Instagram-loving angst-filled teens of this decade, the older generation are riddled with prejudice, unable to let go of historic grudges or outdated opinions. As a result, the younger generation are forced to reluctantly pay homage to the past by their elders, instead of looking toward what their future could hold. In a dry and repetitive ceremony at her school, Naama and her friends are forced to honour military losses, but for them the conflict seems irrelevant. They are forced to be part of the crowd, when really all they want is to be recognised for who they are, but neither school nor parents will accept their difference.
Essentially, Naama leads a double life. As a result, she is doomed to never truly be happy until she fully embraces the side of herself that she really wants to be. She yearns to live her rebellious life fully, so she sees more gravity in the things that she does as that person, and the events that befall her. Dana, however, has fully assumed that life and as a result, is a lot more laissez-faire. Putting the two of them together is a recipe for disaster, with one incredibly uptight and the other as laidback as a lilo. Naama becomes obsessed with Dana, but Dana just enjoys her time with her. The intensity is one-sided and while Naama pours her heart and soul into their relationship, she simply cannot understand why this is not reciprocated.
Having recently seen the Israeli documentary Oriented, it's difficult not to examine them both under the same microscope. Oriented shows how even some of the most politically active and in-your-face gay men still find it impossible to come out to their family. And even though they are just a few years older, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still plays a huge part in their lives. Oriented had something to say about its unique Israeli setting, whereas Blush takes what could have been its strength - exploring her father's violently anti-Palestinian sentiment - and doesn't fully explore it. As a result, its attempts to contextualise Naama's turbulent relationship seem almost arbitrary and tacked on. Clearly the film is trying to say something, but it's difficult to work out exactly what that is.
On its release in Israel, the film was titled 'Barash', referring to the surname of Naama's family. It would appear from this that the filmmaker intended on focusing the film more broadly on the family, but instead got caught up with one character instead. The problem is that while what befalls Naama is interesting, it's not enough to sustain the entire film, particularly because she's not that likeable a person. If the film had indeed been weighted more evenly, with more focus on her parents, this would probably have been a stronger and more engaging film. However, Blush gives us a compelling glimpse of what being a LGBT teen is like in Israel, which is enough to make this an interesting hour and a half.