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CentEast Student Report: Seven Minutes in Heaven Sheva dakot be gan eden (Israel-France-Hungary)

Agnes Emri for CentEast 2009-10-21
A Transfax Film Prods. (Israel)/ EZ Films (France)/KMH Films (Hungary) production,

with the support of the Israel Film Fund, Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, Israeli Film Council, Israeli Fund for Film Production. (International sales: Transfax, Tel Aviv.) Produced by Marek Rozenbaum, Itai Tamir, Elie Meirovitz, Michael Rozenbaum, Ferenc Pusztai. Directed, written by Omri Givon.

With: Reymond Amsalem, Eldad Fribas, Nadav Nates, Benjamin Jagendorf.

Named best feature at the Haifa Film Festival in 2008, Israeli director Omri Givon's debut film is a deliberately slow-paced, thoughtful story about coping with trauma and getting second chances, sure to satisfy those open-minded to the metaphysical.

Perhaps if the three twenty-something year old protagonists were somewhere else in the world, "Seven Minutes in Heaven" could just be a love triangle story of two men and one woman. In Jerusalem, however, suicide bombings are sadly part of an every-day reality, turning the threesome's otherwise simple story into heavy subject matter producing a mix of romance, drama and mystical thriller.

Galia's (Reymond Amsalem) life is a constant what-if one year after having been involved in a terrible tragedy which severely burnt her, marking her body with scars that force her to wear a special suit under her clothes. An Arab suicide bomber boarder her 8:45 bus, one she should not have even been on as she usually takes the bus at 8:30. She has lost a boyfriend Oren (Nadav Netz) to the attack and the shock has left her with fractured memories. One year later, Galia is haunted by the faces of the other passengers who unlike her did not survive, and by Oren, whose boyish photographs still hang on her refrigerator door. The audience is invited to embark on a slow quest to find closure with Galia, to reconstruct the event and get an answer to the question, how and why did she survive?

When handsome Boaz (Eldad Fribas) enters Galia's life, she pushes him away, but her intense gaze shows interest and a tired but inviting smile suggests she is ready for a new love in her life. Tight close-ups of her face express the inner struggle between staying faithful to her dead lover, and giving in to a new start. Amsalem's sensitive acting here is excellent. Unfortunately, Givon exaggerates it by having her chain smoke throughout the film, an unnecessary emphasis of the troubled state of mind her acting already expresses.

Her new suit is her second skin and Boaz has gotten under it. Yet the ghost of Oren still haunts her, appearing in her kitchen cursing her and making the audience wonder whether it is mourning for a loved one or guilt that really tortures her. Indeed, it is revealed that Galia was considering leaving Oren the day of the attack, and he was only on the bus to win her back. Is it her fault then that he died? Placed in time of the Purim festivities, a backdrop of children masquerading in costumes on the streets adds a surreal contrast to the pain of Galia.

The well-written laconic script establishes an atmosphere of constant self-searching. "I used to sing" Galia confesses to Boaz, and in a flashback we are shown her lighthearted flirtatious version. This decisive and seductive woman is a huge contrast to her current dark and brooding self.

Everyone dealing with the bombing incidents directly has a crushed soul. Just when it seems like the entire city is carrying her burden, Galia's sister appears, a brief but very lively performance bringing an upbeat touch and some humour into the depressing story.

An important clue is provided when Itzik (Benjamin Jagendorf), an eyewitness at the bombing, tells Galia that she was unconscious for seven minutes and considered to be clinically dead. "Our creator gives these souls a chance to observe the life they'll live if they choose to return." says religious Itsik and the title of the film gains an explanation. "A soul choosing to return might be able to change its destiny at the moment it reunites with the body," he adds. Visual hints, such as Galia's watch, help make more of this statement along the way and eventually lead to the final mystic twist in the plot, one that may not please everyone. Yet, the conclusion is free to be understood as an alternative reality, for those who prefer one ending to the other, in a "Sliding Doors" kind of way.

At the climax of the film is a powerful scene when past and present reunite. Boaz takes Galia to the remainders of the bus stored in the junkyard of similar vehicles. Especially beautiful cinematically is the sequence where finally, after boarding the skeleton of the bus, Galia relives the accident with constant cross-cutting between past and future. The gruesome bomb explosion is not brutal but stylized into slow motion, focused only on Galia shaken from the impact her face and hair slowly getting covered in bright red blood.

"Seven Minutes in Heaven" is Galia's search as she puts a puzzle together, not just about what happened that morning of the accident, but also her own psyche. She reevaluates the concepts of responsibility, love and obligation. It is a study and a dismissal of the many what-ifs that haunt a human being and is suited for audiences who are patient enough to undergo the sensitive process.