By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

From November 4 through 14, Cinejoy, a virtual film festival component of the Cinequest Film Festival, will bring films from all over the world to the homes of movie enthusiasts. This year I had the privilege of screening and reviewing a rather impressive entry from Israel. Titled Woman Alive, the movie examines the tormented life of a woman whose emotions and passions get repressed regularly in a loveless and traditionally oppressive marriage to her more conservative husband. Featuring a tremendous performance by lead actor Lihi Zemel, Woman Alive proves to be a powerful portrait of a woman in crisis, and a fine addition to the Cinejoy Festival.

The film begins with Israeli couple Shlomit and husband Eithan (Iftach Rave) struggling to maintain a passionate sexual relationship. Though they decided to have a brief getaway/overnight date away from their child, old habits, tradition and a certain amount of obliviousness on the part of Eithan does so little to ignite Shlomit’s pain and fuel her pangs of pleasure and excitement. After this experiment ends up failing, Shlomit has a bit of a breakdown and on a whim runs away from home, seriously considering leaving her old life completely behind.

While wandering aimlessly outside of her normal comfort zone, she discovers that there is much more to life in Israel than her sheltered and more inhibited traditional life. While exploring a more unfamiliar place in her country Shlomit meets a caring and sympathetic Black immigrant woman, but also encounters an enigmatic and exciting Russian artist named Lev (Sasha Okun). Inspired by her beauty, Lev has Shlomit model for a painting and eventually begins a heated, but abusive relationship with her. Shlomit, in turn, becomes inspired to express her artistic side and discovers she too has a talent for it.

Written and directed by Macabit Abramson, Woman Alive is an often stunning and remarkable film that feels like and rollercoaster of emotions, as its protagonist struggles to discover herself and defiantly stand on her own. As it plays out like a rollercoaster Abramson and actor Lihi Zemel present Shlomit’s story in a rather jarring fashion. This certainly depicts her journey in a lost and delirious way. Though this choice is rather effective, it does sometimes hurt the flow and pace of the film. Nevertheless, Abramson, who works with cinematographers Or Azulay and Yaron Weinstein beautifully capture this fervent and passionate portrait with Zemel’s tremendous performance making the experience complete.

I am pretty sure both Abramson and Zemel have initially received some flack for working together on film, given that Abramson is Zemel’s mother. However, this is no case of lame nepotism here. Lihi Zemel gives such an incredible performance that is raw, intimate and haunting. Now while she is definitely a highlight of the movie, the other cast members also perform well, particularly Sasha Okun, who protrays the older Russian artist Lev, and Iftach Rave who plays Shlomit’s bewildered and frustrated husband Eithan.

The film will be available for screening via the Cinejoy Virtual Film Festival from November 4 through 14, 2021, and most definitely deserves the attention and admiration it needs to reach the masses. I feel that fans of intimate and candid portraits will love this movie. Macabit Abramson presents Shlomit’s story through mostly visual and physically expressive representations of powerful emotions and feelings. Women from all over the world will be able to relate to Shlomit’s story to a certain degree, Though every woman has not had her exact experience, all women have encountered patriarchal oppression in some shape or form. Woman Alive may not offer any patronizing answers or solutions to the protagonists dilemma, but simply displays her torment, and does so quite beautifully.

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