Most Western Hemisphere denizens are probably unfamiliar with Israeli film. After all, it’s hard for things to jump the ocean and land on our screens when competing with the Hollywood juggernaut. However, in recent years Israel has produced some very interesting LGBT pieces, the best I’ve seen being “The Secrets,” which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. ‘Montana’ is another example of a well-done, interesting, low-key approach to storytelling that also has a lesbian component. It’s a solid feature film debut by Limor Shmila that’s worth a watch for viewers who like subtle films with a message.
In ‘Montana,’ the protagonist Efi returns to her childhood hometown in Acre after the death of her grandfather. She and her mother moved away 15 years ago (for reasons never explicitly stated in the film but that viewers may guess at the end), so her return sparks mild tension in the home that is now inhabited by Efi’s grandmother, aunt, and uncle. Although the movie at first seems as though it will be a typical nostalgic look at the memory of childhood, it is, in fact, about how we grow and move on from events in our childhood without necessarily succumbing to victimhood, and also how danger isn’t always visible above the surface.
Efi is immediately smitten with the neighbor, Karen, who now lives in Efi’s former home, and strikes up an affair with her. In the meantime, Efi’s uncomfortable relationship with her uncle Yossi points to a much darker secret from her past that is spilling over into his current relationship with Karen’s family.
‘Montana’ is in many ways like a play: the characters exist on screen with little explanation of their backgrounds, personalities, or motivations, and the film ends with a purposefully understated crescendo. Although sometimes this feels frustratingly limited, it ultimately works in the movie’s favor by keeping a tight focus on Efi and her current situation. ‘Montana’ is carried by Noa Biron (Efi), whose somewhat enigmatic facial expressions reflect her nuanced relationship with her family, her past, and her present circumstances. According to Shmila, Efi is a mirror for the other characters, and the movie itself is a mirror to society, reminding viewers to be vigilant to subtle danger cues they might otherwise be missing as a result of their own self-absorption. It’s also a reminder that flowers can take root and grow from all kinds of different environments.
‘Montana’ is currently playing at the Toronto Inside Out Film Festival.