Review of “Joe + Belle”

Totally off-kilter, sexy and stylish in a distinctly grungy, almost ’90s sort of way, Joe + Belle is the story of two young women who meet and fall in love under bizarre, darkly hilarious circumstances. A creative tour-de-force for star/director/writer Veronica Kedar, it manages to say something deep about love and violence while still offering all the gallows humor you could hope for.

Warning: Some spoilers

We meet Joe (Kedar), a sexy, devil-may-care drug dealer, as she arrives home to Tel Aviv after a productive drug run in Bangkok. Her voiceover is all pouty post-modern depression, and her recent ex-boyfriend, Matan (Yotam Ishay), won’t stop calling her. She meets up with Abigail (Romi Aboulafia), a friend and fellow dealer, and goes home to her apartment, ready to relax in the shower.

We meet Belle (Sivan Levy), our other leading lady, as her mother picks her up from a stint at a mental hospital (the film description, not one to mince words, describes Belle as a “French psychopath”). Immediately obvious is the fact that Belle isn’t too keen on social cues, and she runs away when it turns out mom was remiss and her beloved dog ran away. So, she breaks into an empty apartment and hides out in the tub, razor at the ready to off herself.

As fate would have it, Belle chose Joe’s bathroom to break into, and our star-crossed pair meets for the first time. Joe snatches the razor and reluctantly allows her new friend to stick around. Unfortunately, Matan decides to pop by for a visit, startling Belle (who found Joe’s gun in the microwave), and we end up with a dead ex-boyfriend in the first few minutes of the film.

From here, our ladies need to dispose of the body (with help from a hilariously distraught Abigail) and go on the run, deciding upon Sderot, a location that is constantly being bombed by Quassam rockets. Naturally, this is the one place where no one will find them – or care to even look.

There are mishaps all along the way, mainly aided by Belle’s nonchalant ability to knock men out, with a girly “Don’t be mad,” and a blow to the head. There are botched attempts at Grand Theft Auto, hostage situations, and even a particularly memorable scene at a local lesbian bar, all of which add to the stirring attraction between the two women.

Throughout the film, news broadcasts – about the violence and despair in Sderot – underscore scene after scene. Painted as a hopeless no-mans-land, it’s the only real indication that Joe + Belle is taking place in a conflicted part of the world. This is a particularly sobering realization when the rest of the violence in the movie is so off-the-wall and darkly funny. It’s worth watching through the ending credits for a payoff (of sorts) to both modes.

This is writer/director/star Veronica Kedar’s first feature-length film, and the whole production moves with a youthful energy and sense of bizarre playfulness. Sure, there’s murder and a suicide attempt, and plenty of men calling our leads all sorts of nasty things, but none of it bothers Joe and Belle, they move right on with the business of falling for each other and running away from their accidental crime.

Joe + Belle certainly dabbles in camp, but not where our leading ladies are concerned. The only really goofy scenes involve officer Tzedek (Ra’anan Hefetz) and Abigail, who, as it turns out, is sleeping with Tzedek. Faster than you can scream “plot twist!” Abigail throws her buddy under the proverbial bus and tells Tzedek about the murder, since, as it turns out, she had the hots for Matan. Now, the chase is on.

For a comedy touted as darkly as this one, the package is surprisingly sweet and romantic. Joe is put off by Belle’s casual declaration of her sexuality at first, but it only takes a trip to the lesbian bar to stir a bit of jealousy in our “straight” heroine, so much so that she soon tells Belle she wants to “try it.” Later, they even roll around in the grass – at least until a bomb warning forces them to take shelter in a bathroom (cue lesbian film stereotype #18: ridiculously hot love scene in the ladies room). There’s even a drunken acoustic song, from Joe to Belle, and a whole lot of happy strolls in the sun. Minus the rockets and the murder at the beginning, this is practically a romantic comedy.

In a situation wherein one lead begins the film jaded and apathetic, and the other totally off her rocker, you need to tread carefully and hit the tone just right, less you veer into boring (or dangerously high camp) territory. Thankfully, both leads are genuinely likeable – a pair of misfits who find one another in an insane, violent world. The strong performances go a long way in making the relationship believable, grounding the characters in a happiness and a love that even the Quassam rockets cannot touch.

If you like your comedy offbeat, and your leading ladies slightly crazy, you really can’t go wrong here. Kedar is definitely one to watch – no matter what role she plays in her next production.

Watch the trailer for Joe + Belle below:

Check out the official site of the film for screening information.

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