Avishag’s (Elisheva Weil) iPhone is cracked. These things happen, but it’s this kind of small detail that immediately invites the viewer to judge her. She sits in a dog park and watches the Israeli X factor on her broken screen; someone singing “Hurt” by Christina Aguilera. The film invites us to watch almost the entire clip along with Avishag, trying to square her love of mainstream television with her fantasies of extremely rough sex.
Her face is also cracked. She likes to be choked and slapped during intercourse. This comes as something as a surprise to her new paramour Max (Leib Lev Levin). He quickly jumps on the idea as he utterly adores Avishag, who has this quality of quickly making men swoon. The miracle of All Eyes Off Me is the way it takes this dirty premise and spins it into something rather profound, a low-key reverie on the unknowability of man.
Max and Avishag might be hitting it off, but Danny (Hadar Katz) is quickly losing touch with her youth. She’s just realised that she’s pregnant with Max’s baby, telling her friends at a party that she will get an abortion as soon as possible. Another girl details in blasé fashion both the terror and the ease of terminating a pregnancy, the camera lingering on Danny’s more-or-less unreadable reaction. Nonetheless, she cannot bring herself to tell Max the news, as he seems so absorbed in his new girlfriend. In a brave move, she disappears for the rest of the film, lingering over both Max’s and Avishag’s choices for the remaining runtime. We are left with an enigma, shafted from the story due to her inability to move forward.
Split into three related yet distinct parts that refract off one another like three interpretations of the same tune, Hadas Ben Aroya’s film is unpredictable, unnerving and quietly exhilarating. This generation of Israelis might be young, sexually liberated and drug-friendly; readily journeying to Paris and Berlin while down for experimentation without the moral baggage, but they can never talk about the future in any depth. Instead they live in an eternal present. Yet, behind this veneer of sexual freedom is something far more intriguing: an investigation into modern relationships that struck me with its precise dialogue, illuminating anecdotes and precisely framed movements. The acting is uniformly great, utilising unforced naturalism to bring conflicts to the fore while never letting them boil over into histrionics.
There is a touch of Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore in this film, both in its unadorned approach to sex and relationships as well as a thorny investigation of the power within those relationships. And just like in The Mother and the Whore, director Hadas Ben Aroya is unafraid to simply allow characters to sit and bask in their feelings, usually while listening to an entire track — Yé-Yé pop and Israeli dad rock — play out from start to finish. This allows us to just sit with the characters and tune into their reality. Without exterior moralising or unnecessary exposition, this ambiguous chamber drama never gives too much away. I was constantly engaged by its fascinating, constantly shape-shifting form.
All Eyes Off Me played in the Panorama section of the 71st Berlinale. It also showed at the 25th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.