Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Eli Cohen
Screenplay: Eli Cohen
Runtime: 92 minutes
Cast: Gila Almagor, Eli Cohen, Nathan Dattner, Yossi Graber.
Plot: A chance meeting between old friends leads to the revival of the Israeli folk dancing group Hora 79 for one last performance. But after 33 years the dancers are past their prime and still stuck in old conflicts, loves, resentments, and jealousies. Reunited, these long dead feelings rise to the fore and the members must contend against them, as well as a rival manager who wants to see them removed from the festival, and an old director who represents the epitome of folk dancing evil.
Review: I had no idea who Hora 79 where going in, and the film didn’t mount a convincing case for me to care. What followed no amount of eyewash and Crying Game showers will ever allow me to unsee.
But the AICE Israeli Film Festival hits the much coveted trifecta of terrible with the amusingly misjudged Hora 79; a film that documents the struggles of an elderly Israeli folk dancing group thirty years on, the fate of which you’ll be supremely indifferent to. Only the gratuitous sex scenes will startle you out of your boredom-induced coma, and then some; an aesthetic electroshock therapy that should similarly be outlawed. But when they’re not fucking in fields, these whiny sacks of over-tanned leather are galumphing across the stage like elephants with five years of modern dance and six years of tap (to quote Barney Gumble); contestants in the only competition the world cares about, folk dancing. Of course the dark side of this coming-of-age story for eighty-year-olds is some non-descript event that happened during a tour of America many years ago, an explosion and death of some sort, which is referenced at the start of the film (through bafflingly inappropriate horror flashbacks) and not mentioned again until the closing minutes.
In between, this taut script sandwiches in all of the midi music and dull rehearsal scenes it can manage. I remember very little about the various sagging individuals this film was about, perpetually coupling and decoupling. One had a slicked back salesman’s haircut and a piercing in one ear; he was the ostensible romantic lead, and he liked some other fake blonde woman who had a loving husband but fucked around behind the haystacks with him anyway (the group spent an inexplicable amount of time performing at a farm where they were eerily the only occupants; perhaps the rest killed themselves). Their romance had “history,” and an old recording of them kissing while twenty and on tour is replayed more often than that ad by Pelé for erectile dysfunction (the only predictable joke the script doesn’t attempt; judiciously judging this no laughing matter for their target audience). At one point they drive side-by-side down a highway in two separate vehicles, windows down, talking but unable to hear each other over the honking of the justifiably irate commuters behind them. Why, you ask? Never explained. Their romance ends with a bedridden discussion of their future, and the exemplary line ‘Etan, what’s gonna be with us?’ I didn’t care, you won’t either. That’s them done.
So there’s also a guy who has a gay son, and another alumnus who himself turns out to be gay. They hook up in a chain of ironclad logic of the way sexuality works (yeah, something like that, the producers said). I’m not quite sure what happens with them; the son turns up and is happy that his father isn’t quite gay now but still walked a mile in his shoes? I have no idea; there are so many characters wedged into the film that we get to spend at best seconds with any of them and their pretty generic issues. Oh, there’s also a Polish woman who, at a festival, gets lured into the back of a van for sex in a manner reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs. She makes it out again, well moisturised. One character is worried about another character having a heart attack, a third character actually does have a heart attack and is back on stage several days later.
The film does actually reach a climax (are we not doing phrasing anymore?), and boy is it a whimper. An evil competitor shoehorns them onto the smallest stage at the biggest festival, in front of a tiny audience. It would be petty of me to suggest that this seems to be for the film’s budgetary reasons, but there it is. Indeed, the entire production value of the film – including its choice of location, shots, digital camera work – suggests it is a public access television project, and selected at the last minute to fill a festival line-up (much like the fictional group themselves!). The villain of the piece, suggested but forgotten in the opening minutes, turns up in the last fifteen minutes and is a smiling old man who looks less like the Devil and more like a cheery Jewish Davros, creator of the Daleks, that his grandchildren know and love. There’s a whole ton of exposition delivered in a final quarter huddle that attempts to give stakes to the drama, but doesn’t. One character proclaims ‘not even tanks can stop us once we start dancing!’ I mean, at this point in the film I really wanted to test that hypothesis. The cliffhanger rests on closeups of the expression on the old man’s face; while we get separate waist-high shots and alternating footwork-only shots to desperately cover the fact none of these lifeless corpses can dance. At some point they start to float in the air with orgasmic expressions on their faces, green screened into the air like an elder porn parody of Up!.
And it’s over. There’s some stock footage of a younger folk troop actually dancing and our heroes edge ever closer to their grave. I left with the sneaking suspicion my lifespan had just been significantly shortened too.
Rating: Half an inkling that I should have lowered the grade of all three films to an innovative minus one star.