It is difficult not to squirm in your seat watching director Marco Carmel’s “Noble Savage.” It’s certainly savage, if not brutal, to follow the life of Eli, an obese and bullied teenager living in the seediest part of Tel Aviv and trying to keep it together as his world falls apart. Early in the movie, we learn that his mother is a recovering junkie who’s divorced from his alcoholic father, a wannabe artist/philosopher, and living with another recovering junkie, who has a violent temper as well as a criminal past. The two are desperate to live a “normative life,” trying to welcome the Shabbat and parent Eli, but lacking the tools to achieve their ideals. In reality, nothing here is “normative” at all; the child becomes the parent, the father becomes the child, and the mother becomes the lover.
In literature a “noble savage” embodies the concept of the indigent, wild human, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore represents humanity’s innate goodness. Here, we watch as Eli traverses the course from noble to savage and it’s a tragic viewing at best. Although we get glimpses of Eli’s potential, we quickly doubt that escaping his claustrophobic existence is not a likely outcome, or is it? The film is masterfully done and deservedly received 10 Ophir Award nominations (the equivalent of the Oscars in Israel).
Neveh Tzur, who’s already a hip-hop star in Israel, won best actor for his gut-wrenching portrayal of Eli. This is certainly one of the 2019 AJFF’s best narrative films.
Janice Convoy-Hellmann has been involved with the AJFF for almost 10 years, serving on both the Evaluation and Programming committees and pre-screening hundreds of films in advance of the festival.