Abbreviated and deliberately ambiguous, The Cutoff Man is a pointed consideration of masculinity and emasculation. Gabi, paterfamilias of a small Nahariya family, is an undemonstrative man. He uses words carefully, his money even more so. Times are hard, and to make ends meet he takes up work as a jobbing water technician – the “cut-off man” of the film’s title. His task is to disconnect the water supply of people who have neglected to settle their accounts with the water board for one reason or another – and it’s usually the one reason, a lack of means. It’s not just the poor pay for work that rankles; it is morally compromising and visibly eats away at Gabi from the inside.
Idan Hubel’s film – a highlight of last year’s Haifa International Film Festival – feels somewhat an anti-movie. There’s no narrative to speak of, no denouement or challenge to be overcome. Dialogue is sparse; contextual signposts are few and far between. Rather, it is an observational document: a snapshot of conflicting values, a clash which resonates even within the slender construct of the film.
A good part of the effectiveness of The Cutoff Man lies in the minute detail that writer/director Hubel uses in place of declaratory themes: a throwaway observation that each disconnection earns a scant 11 NIS; the inarticulate companionship which Gabi and his teenage son distil through a shared passion for football. A short conversation between Gabi and his employer, when the latter tells him that the disconnections must be suspended – electoral tactics, apparently – speaks volumes. Gabi’s quiet desperation is sketched in without cliché.
The other thing The Cutoff Man has going for it is Moshe Ivgy’s portrayal of Gabi, masterfully understated. He is taciturn, inscrutable for much of the film. Does Gabi feel a pained solidarity with the people whose water he cuts off, or does he despise them for their helplessness – and perhaps, by proxy, despise himself? When, eventually, he is forced to break emotional cover, this ambiguity at the centre of the film feels all the more affecting. It is hard to determine whether to feel sorry for him or to despise him, and the uncertainty lingers long after the end of the film.
The Cutoff Man (Menatek HaMayim) (Israel, 2013, 76 min, Hebrew with English subtitles)
Directed by Idan Hubel; Written by Idan Hubel and Nimrod Eldar; Starring: Moshe Ivgy, Yuval Rahav, Na’ama Shapira.