By Ray Bennett
CANNES – The rule imposed on the family spending a week in mourning in Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s “The Seven Days” requires a demonstration of pious grief lest people talk. But there is so much talk in the Israeli siblings’ sophomore outing as writers and directors that it’s hard to see how breaking the rules could make things worse.
Observed intensely, choreographed smartly and acted very well by a large ensemble cast, the film, which opened the Critics’ Week sidebar at the Festival de Cannes, will attract attention at festivals and in art houses but its lack of humor might test audiences’ patience.
About 20 members of the family, including six brothers and two sisters, are confined to the home of a widowed sister-in-law and nearly all of them fall out with one another in the claustrophobic and stultifying atmosphere. It becomes so relentless that you wish somebody would just slap someone, and then somebody does. It’s one of the few moments of comic relief in the picture.
Ronit Elkabetz (pictured) and Simon Abkarian play spouses Vivianne and Eliyau from the Elkabetz’s first film, “To Take a Wife,” although now they are fighting and on the verge of divorce. Vivianne is being pursued by the very eligible Ben (Gil Frank) and is inclined to respond.
They dance around their attraction while the rest of the family, cloistered unpleasantly day and night according to the rules of mourning, engage in a series of encounters having to do with money, envy and resentment.
The roundelay is well written and managed by the directors but the situation, which takes place in an Israel threatened by the first Gulf War, while profoundly serious, cries out for some satirical touches.
The depiction of familial devotion that puts up with religiously inspired regulations requiring that no one may bathe and everyone must sleep on the floor in one room for a week is fiercely conservative. Those of a more secular bent might be reminded of Sartre’s observation that hell is other people.
Venue: Festival de Cannes, Critics’ Week; Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Gil Frank, Keren Mor, Hanna Azoulay Hasfari. Directors, screenwriters: Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz. Producers: Jean-Philippe Reza, Eilon Ratzkovsky, Yochanan Kredo, Yossi Uzard, Guy Jacoel, Eric Cohen, Elie Meirovitz. Director of photography: Yaron Scharf. Production designer: Benny Arbitman. Music: Michael Korb, Sergio Leonardi. Costume designer: Laura Sheim. Editor: Joelle Alexis; Sales: Daniela Elstner, Lise Zipci, Agathe Valentin; No MPAA rating, running time, 115 mins.
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.