Movie Review: Sexually Curious and Uninhibited Young Israelis Work Things Out with “All Eyes Off Me”

Israeli actress turned director Hadas Ben Aroya continues her exploration of the love and sex lives of young Israeli Jews with “All Eyes Off Me,” her follow-up to “People That Are Not Me.”

Her debut feature explored the curiosity, longing and sexual thrill-seeking of a young woman unwilling to commit, unable to satisfy her urges in any way that doesn’t render every relationship “casual,” to the point where she adds strangers she’s just met to the ex and the new guy she keeps around as part time partners.

The new film follows three people whose interlocking love lives would make things terribly complicated if everyone know all about everyone else.

Ben Aroya tells us their stories in three episodes. In the first, bisexual and bedazzled Danny (Hadar Katz) makes her way into a party, somewhat dazed. She smiles, asks for “Max” and takes a break from her poking around from room to room to have a random, long makeout session with a woman who seems drunk enough to have decided this is how she will spend the evening.

But Danny eschews drink and lets a group of intimates know why. She’s just tested pregnant. So we can guess why she’s looking for Max.

Seeing him with another woman doesn’t throw her completely. That’s the vibe we get from this crowd — young, not committing to anyone, “exclusivity” or even a single gender. But when she finally gets Max (Leib Levin) alone, Danny can’t bring up the topic at hand. She finds herself deflecting by giving dating advice, which he seems to take.

Episode two is Max, all smitten with Avishag (Elisheva Weil), confessing his almost instant “love” for her and his attraction to men, as well, “but not ‘manly men,'” he hastens to add (in Hebrew with English subtitles). “Feminine ones.”

The vivacious Avishag rolls with this, and might even take it as a major selling point of this insatiable new lover. Avishag has been around enough to know what she likes, and she has very particular cravings in bed. She’d liked to be choked, choked like he’s serious. And she wouldn’t mind the occasional pre-orgasmic slap.

And the third episode gets at the consequences of those predilections, Avishag’s avoidance of her latest dalliance and eagerness for a next distraction, literally the first guy who comes along.

Ben Aroya tells these stories in long, slow and conversation-heavy takes, each episode a lingering, slowly-unfolding sequence with monologues and sexual encounters ranging from light and casual to heavy and revealing.

Danny’s revelation to friends at the party earns her a long discourse of how abortion is “granted” in Israel, the drawn-out physical and psychological pain of “the pills,” vs. the single-visit surgical options from women who know.

Max’s suggestion that he’s ready to dash into a weekend away with new love Avishag earns a lecture on rushing things from Danny.

Avishag’s pointed requests for sexual activities are noted and turn into “appointment” sex talk with Max, who has to “schedule” this in.

The film’s middle act is nude and sexually explicit enough that it takes over the film and narrow its interpretations. The third act seems a disheartening reaction to “taking things too far,” with no learning from the previous experience.

The “So, that’s it?” structure undercuts, somewhat, the promise of its title, that we’re seeing young people who need to be beyond judgement and scrutiny during their “I’m working this out” years of experimenting. That lowers the stakes and strips the pathos from the performances, flattening out the movie watching experience.

And the second act’s length and explicit nature suggest the filmmaker got lost in the particulars of filming intercourse and titillation and decided to make a primer on rough sex, Israeli style.

“Eyes Off Me” is more carnal than emotional or particularly psychological. But I guess Ben Aroya has her brand and she’s just going to stick with it.

Rating: unrated, sexually explicit

Cast: Hadar Katz, Leib Levin, Yoav Hayt and Elisheva Weil

Credits: Scripted and directed by Hadas Ben Aroya. A Film Movement release.

Running time: 1:28

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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