Concerned Citizen ***
Starring: Shlomi Bertonov, Ariel Wolf, Lena Fraifeld, Uriah Jablonovsky
Director: Idan Haguel
Ben (Bertonov) and his boyfriend Raz (Wolf) live in a suburb of Tel Aviv that is “up and coming” but hasn’t “upped” or “come” just yet. Their gorgeous apartment sits in a block alongside cheap social housing, meaning that their middle class life is led alongside those of working class Arabs and immigrant families.
When Ben plants a tree on the street outside, he is enraged to see his Eritrean neighbours leaning on its trunk and reports them to the police for damaging public property. Their response is to chase, assault and kill one of them, leaving Ben wracked with guilt.
This black comedy has a lot of legs, observing Ben’s middle-class quotidian (personal training, air-conditioned office, refined dinner parties) alongside the grief of the family just one floor above. Despite recounting the tale to his therapist, he even lies to him, making himself out to be more the hero than he actually is. And as we see his descent into anguish, it begs the question of whether he truly feels guilty or just wants guilt to be acknowledged on him, as though it’s an accessory or medal.
Though an interesting concept, its execution is somewhat glacial. It focuses too much on Ben’s daily life, merely peppering this with moments following the breadcrumbs of remorse. The run-time is thankfully brisk, but the balance between character and narrative is skewed in the wrong direction. Observational with visceral realism, it plays more for the recognition of Ben’s bourgeois life from its bourgeois audience than for making any real statement about classism, gentrification or poverty. Casting Ben as the hero of the piece is pretty problematic, especially considering the events of the final scene, where recording his actions becomes more significant than the act itself.
A film that drives hard to attain middle-class authenticity, this is a social commentary that’s positioned on the wrong-side of a virtue-signalling mirror. It speaks a lot, but isn’t sure of what it’s saying. And Ben is just a little too flawed to really capture our empathy.
UK Release: 23rd January 2023 on VOD, released by Peccadillo Pictures