A QUIET HEART weaves an engaging personal tale into a landscape of religious tension to great effect in director Eitan Anner’s Israeli feature.
Naomi (Ania Bukstein), a classical pianist with newly-developed confidence issues, relocates from Tel Aviv to an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Jerusalem where she is regarded as a problem by her fanatical neighbours. Her anxiety mounts when she finds herself contending with the disdain of a local parking attendant and a growing suspicion around the fate of her flat’s previous tenant. Her new situation is further complicated by a burgeoning friendship with Brother Fabrizio, a Catholic monk she visits for organ lessons.
Eitan Anner creates a tangibly stifling atmosphere within Naomi’s run-down flat, which is frequently invaded by her neighbour’s young son Simcha, who loves to play her piano. Her workplace is equally drab and claustrophobic, crowded by the awkward and pervy advances of the security guard. His performance demonstrates that for Naomi, the foreshadowing of violence can be more powerful than violence itself. Bukstein’s own quiet intensity ensures that we have an avatar for our own creeping dread, as the covert campaign against her perceived corrosive secularism grows.
Anner creates a tangibly stifling atmosphere…
Despite the short run time, however, there are elements which feel underused or pointless. A workplace visit from Naomi’s former lover David is as dead-ended as a visit from her father. Activist Maya (Rona Lee Shimon), introduced early as a counter-foil to the insular and religious locals, is barely used; and in the one scene (set in a police station) in which she is given substantial screen time she feels unneeded. At a climactic point in her persecution, Naomi also makes some profoundly stupid decisions: an escape attempt in her car strikes at an unnecessary urgency that is at odds with everything the character has done to that point.
It is a testament to the main narrative, performances and atmopshere, however, that the film retains its thematic and atmospheric coherence despite these missteps. Although it suffers in parts from narrative flab and motivational obscurity, the central performance of Ania Bukstein as Naomi drives a solid story with the sharpness and impact needed: A QUIET HEART is an examination of social tension which looms over the audience in much the same way that the tower blocks in Naomi’s neighbourhood invade her space.