The City

Amit Ulman in The City/Photo: Misha Plitinsky

Brilliant, funny, and generating an enthusiasm rarely felt in the cinema, The City, created and directed by Amit Ulman, is a genre-bending genre film, a rap opera that is an homage to film noir, crime fiction, and Israeli rap. To the extent that a hero can exist in the dark, cynical, imaginary world of The City, it is the Hebrew language in all its registers, from literary language to song lyrics, and street idioms; all to an intoxicating beat. The film is incredibly fast-paced, with rapid repartee, and sharp-shooting rap battles, its exquisitely detailed visuals are as densely packed as the virtuoso delivery of verbal acrobatics. Terrific performances all-around with the participation of the pantheon of Israeli rappers, an edgy, poetic, cynical libretto, and rhythms that enter your body and mind, make The City an exhilarating and unique experience.

If it sounds like I’m raving about this film – I am. I’ve already seen it twice and am looking forward to many more viewings.

Moria Akons and Amit Ulman in The City/Photo: Misha Plitinsky

The plot is deliciously derivative, playfully calling up the dark worlds of detective novels and films, with familiar tropes presented with a hip hop beat and attitude. The sardonic, world-weary detective Joe (Amit Ulman), fedora tipped at just the right angle and more often than not a cigarette hanging from his lips, believes in no one, not even himself. Late one stormy night, Sarah Bennett (Moria Akons) appears at his office, drenched with rain, and Joe, in the manner of Sam Spade and his literary cohorts, comments, “I knew right from the start this one was no good.” Jack (Omer Havron aka Jimbo J), Joe’s partner, is his foil in every way, a practical, family man, with his feet on the ground. Jack knows that the sensible response to a femme fatale like Sarah is to walk away, but for Joe, the scent of danger only makes Sarah more alluring. Into this elaborate dance of mystery, strange clues, desire, and lies, come several other characters – the police inspector McMurphy (Alon Neuman), his sidekick Chucky (Jeremiah), the elusive arch-criminal Menashe, and his elegant henchman portrayed by Idan Alterman. The city itself has a strong presence in the film, with its tall, anonymous, alienating towers, nightclubs where anything can happen, bleak, busy, streets, and filthy, desperate alleys. Like every city, it has its nameless troubadour, a melancholy Greek chorus of a guy and a guitar, portrayed by Omer Mor (aka Isaac DaBom).  All the lead actors are also musicians, and the rappers – experts in timing and intonation, reveal their flair for comedy.

Jimbo J and Amit Ulman in The Citiy/Photo: Misha Plitinsky

The incredibly talented crew that created The City has been working on this vision, and perfecting it, for over a decade. What began as a short dramatic interlude created by the Victor Jackson Show (Amit Ulman, Omer Havron, Omer Mor) was developed with the Incubator Theatre into a live, noir, hip hop opera that became a cult hit, with a huge fan base who came to see the show time and again. It was even translated into English, and as I saw that version, I can testify that the translation works amazingly well, which bodes well for the eventual English subtitles (for now, the film is only in Hebrew), and perhaps a remake in English in the future… Having seen and loved the show onstage, I came to the screening of The City with a measure of trepidation, skepticism, and an acknowledged bias against filmed live shows. But The City is nothing like a filmed stage show – it is in every aspect a brilliant work of cinema, with creative directing and editing.

All the elements of the film work together to create a complex, densely detailed, vision that retains the immediacy and visceral impact of a live concert. Timeless images from the collective cultural consciousness, contemporary music, real locations throughout Tel Aviv, references to Israeli culture, and the mystique of the noir crime genre, succeed in creating an imaginary world that is at once a dazzling, often hilarious fantasy, and yet touches on the grit and pain of human experience, the corruption in the system, and the rough reality of our cities.

The City

Created and directed by Amit Ulman; Screenplay: Amit Ulman, Omer Havron (Jimbo J), Omer Mor (Itzik Pzazazty); Music: Omer Mor, Amit Ulman, Omer Havron; Music Producer & Arrangements: Omer Mor; Production: Hagi Arad, Aharon Peer, Elad Peleg, Daroma Productions