I admit that I have a hard time with the genre represented by The Ran Quadruplets, screened last night at the Jerusalem Film Festival, whether in literature, on film, or on stage. I mean stories about upper-crust Israelis in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area who are primarily concerned with having lots of sex. Perhaps it’s just jealousy. It’s true: I’ve never had a lot of sex in Tel Aviv and sometimes wonder what it would be like. But, emerging with my wife, Ilana, from the Cinematheque last night, I felt that even lots of steamy sex in the city that never stops would not be worth the vapidity of character that such couplings seem to require.
The screening consisted of three segments of what is apparently going to be a television series. The premise is that the four 32-year-old protagonists are the first set of quadruplets to be born in Israel, and that their lives have been chronicled by a filmmaker, Michael, every eight years, in the style of his namesake, Michael Apted, he of the “Seven Up” series of films. Michael is now making the fourth film in the series and intrudes on the life of the Ran family as an interviewer, general nuisance, and unprofessional psychologist, at various junctures when the story flags.
The quads are Eitan—tall, dark, successful, blonde wife, secretly gay (lots of sex, both kinds); Gur, a paraplegic stage director who pays for pleasure (lots of sex, different partners); Gali, an aspiring journalist who dislikes her mother and agonizes about career and family (lots of sex, with pregnancy tests); and Nevo, a frustrated actor, back from a few years in New York (lots of sex, in bathrooms). They live in Holon, the suburb south of Tel Aviv, but it’s a Holon unlike any known to Ilana, who grew up there. Dad has a factory, though we never learn what kind; Mom smiles a lot. Neta, Eitan’s wife, gets a lot of flack from his sibs about how well she dresses and how fussy she is about her hair, but the fact is that even Nevo’s tank-tops and jeans are carefully considered fashion statements in the context of the Tel Aviv culture to which he has returned.
The major story line revolves around Neta’s discovery that Eitan has a gay lover. The plot is lifted largely from the 2002 film Far From Heaven, but the treatment here lacks the complexity of that work. In the older film, the characters make their choices within a social milieu that confronts them with other conflicts as well—of race, of politics, of family roles, of child rearing. In swinging Tel Aviv, Neta is aghast that her husband has been betraying her, and Eitan wants to keep his family together, but in the context of the fictional world created by screenwriters and originators Giora Yahalom-Ofir and Oren Ya’akobi (no director is listed), the only real issue at hand seems to be the creation of maximal opportunities for graphic sex scenes.
In recent years, Israel has produced many fine films, and one of the main reasons is that the cinematic world here has undergone a promise of maturation. Not so long ago, Israeli directors and producers seemed to feel that, to be modern and with-it, they had to show lots of coition, even at the sacrifice of a coherent narrative (recall the paint-by-sex scene that, for no apparent reason at all, forms the nearly endless opening sequence of Amos Gitai’s Kippur). A string of recent films have learned to deal with sex in more subtle and complex ways. The Ran Quadruplets is a throwback to the horny adolescent stage of Israeli cinematic history.
That’s too bad, because the basic device, of a family being documented by a filmmaker who is a character in the film we are seeing, could be used to very good effect. Maybe eight years from now, when the quads reach the age of forty, Yahalom-Ofir and Ya’akobi will be mature enough to address the subject again, with more art and less gratuitous flesh.