- Movie Rating -

Ahed’s Knee (2022)

| March 18, 2022

When Ahed’s Knee ended, I experienced a somewhat frustrating day-long period of trying to decide how I felt about it.  The film is challenging, there’s no doubt about that, an artistic statement about the state of director Nadav Lapid’s native country and his desire to be free as an artist, but how does this all mesh with what is on the screen?  Are the images for us, or just the director using seemingly random images as a means of making a statement that is more important to him than it is to us?

The story of a director struggling with his own identity as an artist is, of course, nothing new.  It comes down through history from Fellini’s 8-1/2 to Godard’s Contempt to Sturgess’ Sullivan’s Travels to Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful and, for better or worse, Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories.  What resides within the artist that completes his vision but also satisfied the demands on the audience and the culture that he has to satisfy.

The center of Ahed’s Knee is on a frustrated filmmaker known only as Y and played with fiery intensity by Avshalom Pollack, whose appearance and energy reminded me a bit (brace yourself) of Anthony Bourdain.  And the template is somewhat similar, a lone man wandering the landscape searching for something, a man who is cynical, weather-beaten and always forever voyaging.  Y stalks through the desert while his mind races over random images (I can relate) as he struggles to create his latest work, a film called Ahed’s Knee.

The outward problem is the problem of his native Israel.  The film is not too subtly railing against the policies and practices of the Likud Party and, in fact, that’s largely the screed that takes up the last act of the film.  Leading up to that is a tense question of whether or not Y will sign a form that will allow him to get paid, but it is a form that he knows will also allow the Ministry of Culture to control and censor his work.  Why they would do this obviously makes more sense to them then it does to him.  In a moment of anger and rage, Lapid’s busy camera pushes in on Y’s angry face as he screams and rails against a government that his clearly suffocating him as an artist and therefore as a human being.

I have to admit that I was interested in the film’s central core, but I was a little baffled by what came before.  The film has a sometimes-disjointed palette, a manner in which it indulges the artist’s appetites and flies off into a scene of bizarre art for art sake, such as a moment when Y recalls his military service and we get a 10-man platoon engaging in a mosh pit.  Or the movie will glide into musical interludes that includes Bill Withers “Lovely Day.”

I don’t know.  Maybe it was me.  Maybe my American-Cinema-addled brain have been all-too prepared to reject such tangents and file them almost immediately under “self-indulgent.”  Is it self-indulgent, or is it the work of a frustrated artist trying to make the statement that he wishes to make, the way that he wishes to make it?  I don’t know.  I came away from the film with mixed feelings.  I appreciated the message more than the messenger.  I liked the film when it got to the point, but I found myself irritated by the tangents.  Again, maybe that’s just me.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Foreign