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Ducks – An Urban Legend

Dark romcom from Israel sets out to mock societal paradigms, but instead slips up into tedious platitudes - from the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Entirely set in present-day Tel Aviv, this 104-minute movie focuses on five characters: two couples and a single male. Yossi and Chris want to get married, but can hardly make ends meet. Asaf and Anna have no such ambitions, instead focusing on more mundane and immediate tasks, such as shagging and making money. Elias is a geek who recently received a heart transplant. He lives opposite Asaf and his Iraqi 85-year-old grandfather Messiah, and spends most of the time tracking with his computer software the 28,000 rubber ducks dumped by a ship container that tumbled into the North Pacific years earlier. As you do!

One sunny day grandpa collapses in the kitchen. He’s not breathing and has no pulse. Anna rushes to the telephone in order to call an ambulance, but Asaf instead asks that they forget about the matter and wait until the next day before they decide what to do. The young man purchases a large freezer and puts the corpse of the old man inside. He wants to claim his grandfather’s pension, his only lifeline. But the bank manager won’t give him the money without Messiah’s authorisation. So Anna comes up with a very unorthodox plan: to stuff the body of the 85-year-old and take the taxidermic creation to the bank. Asaf complements the idea: insert car brakes into the lifeless body in order to make it move. Their idea is so successful that they end up using stuffed grandpa for various racketeering purposes.

Asaf becomes strangely attached to the stuffed body. The irony is that he best connects with his humanity when he is in the company of the dead human being. Anna begins to get tired of the chicanery and asks that they bury the body, but Asaf refuses to comply because he will not abandon his grandfather. Anna challenges him: “he’s stuffed”. Asaf immediately retorts: “nobody’s perfect”, in a reference to the final line of Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959). That’s probably the movie’s best dialogue.

Yossi and Chris are far more law-abiding citizens. The muscular male works as waterski instructor, while the elegant woman has a job at the local hairdresser. The problem is that her employer constantly hits on her, leaving Yossi extremely insecure. Anna’s top priority is to buy a wedding dress from a good shop (second hand won’t do), while her other half just dreams of a new iPhone. She’s pregnant and they recently became engaged. Nevertheless, their relationship isn’t a particularly strong one: Chris sleeps with other men and is consistently tempted by the advances of her boss (who happens to be much richer than fiancé, and prepared to put his money to use).

What these four profoundly fallible characters have in common is that they are money-driven, and their ambitions are extremely petty. The congratulatory Hebrew phrase “Mazel Tov” is repeated ad infinitum, as if these people were constantly casting an elusive sense of redemption and achievement on each other. What soon becomes clear is that none is them is particularly successful in their endeavours. This could be interpreted as a critique of capitalism, however Ducks fails to explore these flaws in more detail, and instead seem to legitimise them. This Israeli film feels banal because there seem to be very few underlying messages. The only exception is perhaps some sort of commentary on the unpredictability of life. The director makes an analogy between the characters (whose predicament is uncertain) and the rubber ducks (which may suddenly emerge anywhere on the planet). W-O-W. That is… as profound as the ocean!!! Please allow me to make my own cutesy comparison, alright?

Another problem in the film is Elia’s character. The bald and chubby man has a sexless life, while the other fours heartthrobs enjoy a roller coaster of sweaty orgasms and fantastic emotions. Elias indeed seems to have a crush on his neighbour Anna, but that love remains entirely unrequited. That’s because only good-looking people have the entitlement to a sex and a romantic life. Fat people can be friendly and avuncular, but that’s about it. Interestingly, Elias is also the only Arab character…

Ducks – An Urban Legend has just premiered at the 26th TallinnBlack Nights Film Festival. It is part of the event’s Official Selection.

By Victor Fraga - 20-11-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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