Or (Mon trésor, My Treasure) is a harrowing experience, where the viewer is forced to follow a young woman down a path she is fighting so hard to not travel, and every step along the way brings both her and us pain. Not an enjoyable film, it nonetheless features incredible performances, sharp direction, and is a highly worthwhile film.
Or is a late-teen Israeli girl, going to school, looking after her mother who seems to have a mental disturbance of some kind, and working part-time to try to support them both. The introduction sees her sorting cans and bottles for recycling, an indication of the depths of her concerns about money and her mother. When she physically fights her mother before locking her inside their apartment, all to stop her going out to work the street, her character is as well defined as it could be. This is a perfect first sequence, so brilliantly telling us of her determination and her will, and without words we feel an instant admiration for her.
Ruthie, Or’s mother, is fading fast, no longer attractive, forced to sell herself on the street more out of habit than anything else, and seemingly amazed by her daughter’s strength. When Or finds her a job cleaning a well-off family’s home, we sense she is destined to fail, and will return to the street within days. She is helpless, and her only hope is her daughter, which feels so wrong as to be a travesty. This poor girl, forced to scavenge food from neighbours to feed her mother, when she should be at school or having fun with friends.
Keren Yedaya is apparently a vocal advocate for prostitutes – in real life having housed several prostitutes who are trying to give up – and she tells a tale of the powerful forces that can drive women to this depth. Or fights as hard as she can – harder than many would think possible – but in the end, the rip-tide is too strong. Each small concession drives her irrevocably to where we all know she will end up, and this is the true horror of this film.
Both Ronit Elkabetz as Ruthie and Dana Ivgy as Or completely immerse themselves in their roles. Ivgy is particularly wonderful, conveying the internal struggles along her path with dexterity. For someone so young to be so comfortable giving so much of herself is rather incredible. Other characters are less impressive, although this is clearly supposed to be a two-hander, and thus they aren’t required to be.
Shot with fixed cameras, and featuring many continuous shots (such that there are reportedly only 130 cuts in the entire 100 minute running time, an amazing feat by modern standards), the cinematography allows us to feel these grimy lives as real and nearby… these women could be our neighbours. The lack of camera movement or editing fits with the languid pace of the film – we see sex acts in their entirety from a single shot, or spend a long time watching the battle of wills between mother and daughter, never being distracted by a change of viewpoint. The style is incredibly supportive to the overall feel of the film.
Notably, this film has an almost perfect ending. Given the director was on her first film, and there were scattered moments of uneven pacing earlier in the film, the final five minutes is excellent. By choosing this ending, Yedaya sticks with what is real and likely, and ends with a powerful message and a period for the audience of feeling utterly uncomfortable.
The winner of five awards at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, including the prestigious Caméra d’Or for first film by a director for Keren Yedaya and the Prix Regards Jeune for best feature film in critics week, this is an amazing film. Seen at the AICE Israeli Film Festival 2005, this is my first introduction to Israeli film-making, and if it is indicative of the talent available in Israel I may find myself watching many more.Rating: