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Not such a wonderful place

By MICHAEL ATKINSON  |  October 30, 2007

It’s still far preferable to Paul Weiland’s SIXTY SIX (the “2007 Opening Gala Celebration” film, which screened October 30 at the Boston Common), an extraordinarily goofy growing-up farce about a nebbishy twerp (Gregg Sulkin) who is so downtrodden and maligned by his cartoonish family (including anal-fool dad Eddie Marsan and crass snapdragon mom Helena Bonham Carter) that he fixates on his bar mitzvah as the one day during which he’ll be the center of the world — till he realizes it’s scheduled for the same day as the 1966 World Cup final between England and Germany. Weiland’s illustrious résumé runs from Leonard Part 6 to Mr. Bean to CitySlickers II, and he’s nothing if not consistent — the tone is childishly obvious, the jokes are hackneyed, the characterizations crude.

Eyal Halfon’s WHAT A WONDERFUL PLACE (MFA: November 3 at 7 pm, with the director present; Arlington Capitol: November 10 at 9:30 pm) is a little more sophisticated, attempting to weave a Crash-like tapestry of desperate characters and bad fortune (itself a tired place to launch from, and an increasingly tiresome ambition) in modern-day Israel, à la Amos Gitai’s somewhat preening Alila. Despite the promising raw material (a group of luckless Ukrainian women sold as prostitutes, an inscrutable pack of Thai migrant workers, the absolutely villainous Israeli men in charge), it’s rather labored and short-minded, like its characters. (The obese, slobbering psycho whore dealer gets his comeuppance in the end, in a full-circle kinda way.) The Israeli self-image is need of a makeover, it seems, as Dror Shaul’s SWEET MUD (MFA: November 11 at 1 pm) makes clear. In the first five minutes, the first adult we meet on the film’s 1970s kibbutz gets a surreptitious blow job from a penned cow. From there, it’s a fairly typical coming-of-age drama (distracted adults, sunlit pastures, petty crime, sneaking peeks at lovers humping in secret, ad infinitum) that envisions the kibbutzum’s socialism as a micro-totalitarian lifestyle in which everyone turns bitter informant, goes nuts, or escapes. The only fire burning brightly in the fog is Ronit Yudkevitz as the adolescent hero’s mother, frail and exhausted and vacillating brilliantly between teetering on the edge of schizophrenic lostness and plunging into the depths.

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