One Week and a Day [2016] – A Superb Subtle Comedy about Grief and Loss

One Week and a Day

People leaving Israeli middle-aged couple Vicky (Evgenia Dodina) and Eyal (Shai Avivi) Spivak’s house are returning back to their ‘normal’ lives. But the Spivaks couldn’t easily readjust themselves to the so-called normalcy. Why? It’s been only a week since the death of their 25 year old cancer-ridden son Ronnie Spivak. The last day of week-long Jewish mourning period known as ‘shiva’ has come to an end. Asaph Polonsky’s Israeli drama  One Week and a Day (2016) opens immediately after the end of ritual mourning and picks up as the last of the guests leave. Of course, this does looks like a ‘gloom-and-doom’ set-up to explore the immutable climate of grief. In fact, Mr. Polonsky’s directorial debut featuring the grieving Spivak’s exactly does the same. However, it surprisingly and evenhandedly employs sly and deadpan humor to depict this hard transition period. Director Polonsky doesn’t extract instant uproarious laughter, but he imparts quite a lot of chuckles. The comedy is enlaced with a deep sense of melancholy and it’s easily relatable, since the character’s inability to grieve or facing the well-spring of painful remembrance is something we may have felt after a shocking loss. The laughs arise from the awkwardness and confusion while settling into the routine beats of life, without ever cheapening the tragedy.

At the last day of shiva, Eyal is seen whopping a little kid in a ping-pong game. He hides in the bushes to avoid meeting his neighbor ‘Zoolers’ whom he despises since he feels they abandoned their family after Ronnie’s illness. Later, he skips funeral service to get back his son’s colorful blanket at the hospice. Ronnie’s room is now occupied by another terminally ill man. Eyal investigates the room drawers and the sick, bald man points to Ronnie’s final batch of medicinal marijuana. Desperate for relieving the emotional pain, Eyal covertly takes the pack. At home his attempts to roll a joint fail. He even uses ice cream cone wrapper as a makeshift weed funnel, but it doesn’t work. Next day, Eyal asks Zoolers’ slacker son (Tomer Kapon) – works at sushi delivery joint – to teach him the mechanics of rolling and smoking a joint. Meanwhile, Vicky shows up at her teaching job without prior announcement. Every one is surprised to see her and there’s the usual and annoying look of pity. There’s an important task for Eyal to finish within the day: to reserve the plots next to the son’s grave for him and Vicky. The funeral business is on the rise and so Eyal’s forgetfulness may affect the chance to finish the deal on grave sites next to Ronnie.

There have been numerous indie films dealing with subjects going through difficult phase of grief. But One Week and a Day is unique in the way it mixes silly, quirky humor with irredeemable sadness. The humor isn’t used as a distraction from grief; it’s set off as natural consequence of the grieving process. Writer/director Polonsky grounds his central characters in a pragmatic manner that we remain empathetic towards Eyal, although his behavior becomes increasingly erratic. The silent sequences between Eyal and Vicky perfectly recreate our inabilities to articulate the feelings of grief and in those moments of despair words totally seem meaningless. Vicky’s stoic presence offers perfect counterpoint to Eyal’s mercurial behavior. Vicky is too weary to react to other’s gaze of pity. She doesn’t have a clue on what to say about her husband’s latest penchant for smoking pot. Both Eyal and Vicky aren’t coping with loss. Like in real life, they try to runaway from coping with loss. Vicky feels she has to stick to her routine to banish the inner pain, whereas Eyal feels he wants to act on something which he never had done in life. Although their methods to shy away from emotional pain totally differs, we feel sympathetic towards both of them.

Director Asaph Polonsky uses lot of long takes, wide-shots, and deep-focus shots to place the characters and their plainly visible mundane surroundings. Most of the action takes place within four-walls and such clear-cut visual form heightens the characters’ need to escape from the bland surroundings. While Kapon – whose little comedic gestures reminds us of Ryan Gosling – offers energetic, charming performance, Dodina and Aviva are quietly affecting as the middle-aged couples. Avivi excels in displaying both deadpan humor and deeply humane feelings. The stand-out factor in Polonsky’s writing is his treatment on the selfishness of sorrow. Eyal wants to do whatever he thinks. He thinks he deserves it due to his burdensome grief. That’s why he doesn’t think before slapping his neighbor woman. It’s why he barges into hospice and takes away marijuana and calls it ‘his inheritance’. He only looks at the world through his own sense of loss.  The script reaches a moment of catharsis when Eyal connects his personal own grief with the inevitable existential pain of outside world. In this fashion, two scenes remain mesmerizing. One is the sentimental ‘air-surgery’ scene in the hospice; and the other is the subtle interlude capturing a stranger’s eulogy for his sister.

At the hospice there’s a precocious girl kid who takes care of her terminally ill mother. The kid was Ronnie’s best friend during his stay. Eyal returns back to hospice with young Zooler to retrieve his son’s blanket. Zooler, who has proved his prowess in the previous ‘air-guitar’ playing scene, performs an air-surgery on the little girl’s mother. It’s a brilliant, bittersweet moment where Eyal’s private sorrow merges with the little girl’s, yet it brings laughs on everyone’s face. Later, with the girl and Zooler in tow, Eyal wanders through the cemetery in a fit of rage because he failed to reserve the grave site next to Ronnie. It’s now taken by another family. Eyal attends the family’s funeral and hears the soul-stirring speech of dead woman’s brother. Strangely, director Polonsky throughout the speech cuts to a short interlude where the brother (Uri Gavriel) goes through his routine life, may be a day or two before the funeral. Moreover, we aren’t sure whether this interlude is Eyal’s imagination or real flashback. Whatever it is, the sequence is marvelously staged since Eyal detaches himself from his own grief and sustains his connection to the outside world. These couple of scenes alone makes it clear that Asaph Polonsky is a great talent to watch out for in the near-future.

Italo Calvino famously said: The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life and inevitability of death”. The grief-stricken Israeli couples’ frantic efforts to return back to the ‘normal’ impeccably explores the great Italian author’s words. One Week and a Day (98 minutes) doesn’t fit into a genre and has a rambling narrative structure. Yet, it delivers a stunning and singular portrayal of the mourning process.

 

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