I want to shock you, shock you because you have become too complacent and too bourgeois. Too complacent and too bourgeois, I repeat in case you did not understand the first time. Maybe I will say it a third time. Or maybe not. Maybe I will just stare meaningfully instead, and then you will understand.
This is Urban Tale, written and directed by Eliav Lilti, and we are Boy and Girl. We don’t have names, because we are Everyman and Everywoman. Or Everyboy and Everygirl. We have a preternatural passivity, and we speak only in declamatory monologues. With each other, and with everyone else. It is more meaningful that way.
We are young. We should be carefree, but we are not. Our mother has died and we are alone in the world. Or perhaps not. Our father, he left us when we were small. Or perhaps not. He is there, in the world, somewhere. Or perhaps not. We should go and find him. Or perhaps not. Or perhaps not.
We fuck. With each other, and with others. Sometimes, the others talk as well as fuck. Sometimes they just talk. They tell us the things they think that we do not know. But we do. We are young. We know everything. We fuck. And after fucking, we talk. With each other, and with others. Like this. Like this. We do not speak to each other in words, we declaim at one another in paragraphs. It is more portentous this way. Or more pretentious. Perhaps. When we do not fuck, we talk. About fucking. And other things, sometimes. But mainly about fucking.
We live in a sordid, senseless world. The world is a big whorehouse. Women accentuate everything except their minds. Consumerism is King. Ageing is Hell. We don’t know this yet. But we will. It is our future.
“We want to see it all, we’re hungry. Don’t just hint, give us full penetrations. We’ll watch with our tongues hanging out. No more self righteous programs with hidden messages. So long erotica. From now on it is finally full sex, 24 hours a day, sex in your face, in Hi-Definition on prime time. Give it to whoever wants it. We’ll buy anything.”
Including, it seems, this risibly misjudged film.
It is, I suppose, the film-maker’s right to make a film as misanthropic, sexualised and stylised as Urban Tale. Think of it as a wilful provocation; from transgressive sexual conduct to a perhaps unfortunate preoccupation with anal polyps, Urban Tale agitates for our attention from its very first frames.
The thing though is that it is always going to be the message, rather than the medium, that matters. Urban Tale, to be fair, has a couple of interesting things to say about the irresistible cynicism that replaces the optimism of youth, the inevitability of one’s capitulation to the conformity of a deeply unimaginative age. But where it thinks of itself as brash and daring, it is instead quite conformist. And, dare I say it, rather boring.
Take the sex, for example (and there is quite a lot of this to take). In style, execution and, um, length, it is clearly intended to grab us by the short and curlies. Truth is, it all seems rather quotidian, even conventional. Certainly, the prurience with which Urban Tale negotiates male nudity – which I’ve talked about before and won’t bother going over again – is strikingly timid, the very antithesis of the radical claims that the film stakes for itself.
It is a pretty film to look at, it must be said. The cinematography is exquisite, with gorgeously framed shots and intriguing camera angles. But all these fail to make up for a fundamental lack that pervades the film. Style complements substance; it can’t replace it. Urban Tale is a very sterile and disengaged film, that somehow seems to have tricked itself into thinking that it has terribly important things to say.
Urban Tale (Maasiya Urbanit) (Israel, 2012, 90 min, Hebrew with English Subtitles)
Written and directed by Eliav Lilti
Starring: Noa Friedman and Barak Friedman, Esti Yerushalmi, Ohad Knoller, Zohar Strauss, Zohar Wagner