Goldberg & Eisenberg (2013) d. Oren Carmi (Israel)
At the end of the 2008 home invasion hit, The Strangers, one of the hapless victims tearfully asks her attackers, “Why us?” The chilling answer, “Because you were home,” resonates on a primal level; we realize that there is nothing they/we could have done to avoid their/our fate. No wrong committed, no law transgressed, no rhyme, no reason. Israeli writer/director Oren Carmi taps a similar vein with his latest feature, one that mines the randomness of human interaction along the same lines as Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. Sometimes insanity just finds you sitting on a park bench and it’s all downhill from there.
Goldberg (Yitzhak Laor) is an average single nerd looking to conjure a little romance in his life. He spends an inordinate amount of time and energy combing internet dating sites, or using his friendly pooch to strike up conversations with hopefully eligible females out walking their pets. However, one evening while waiting for a prospective date to arrive, a slovenly and gregarious oaf (Yahav Gal) wanders by, introducing himself as Eisenberg. The awkward encounter concludes with Goldberg beating a none-too-subtle retreat away from the scene, but his new “friend” is not so easily dissuaded; the unshaven brute suddenly begins to pop up anywhere and everywhere, his attempts at conversation ranging from wildly inappropriate poetry to barely concealed threats. Why has he targeted Goldberg? Again, the answer seems to be frustratingly devoid of reason: Because he was sitting on the bench that night? Because his name was Goldberg? Just because?
Gal brings an injured rage to his role, constantly accusing Laor of being elitist, a homosexual, a loser. As time goes on, we see that these are likely projections of the agony and anger that Eisenberg feels toward himself, but Gal plays the part with such dogged aggressiveness that he never really earns the viewer’s empathy. Similarly, Laor is an abrasively petulant odd duck – he doesn’t deserve his antagonist, but he’s also the annoying creep that we smile politely at while praying for the conversation to end. We wish Goldberg would stand up to the bully, but also understand he’s ill equipped to do so. Besides, when he does try to resist, Eisenberg escalates the hostility two-and-threefold. Our mounting tension and dread, knowing this cannot end well or peacefully, hums and vibrates underneath, with Bruno Grife’s jagged jazz and electronic score providing a sonic emotional counterpart.
Carmi’s third act is not as strong as his preceding two; the uncomfortable black comedy ebbs and the remaining simple shocks are not powerful enough to carry the day. Similarly, there are many times where we see Goldberg doing things that don’t jive with our rational thinking, distancing our relationship to him. We’re left helplessly shaking our head in disapproval, our tenuous identification slipping away. However, there’s no denying Carni is a skillful manipulator of emotions, and he perfectly captures the isolation and loneliness of the modern urban dweller. Goldberg searches vainly for a romantic relationship, Eisenberg fiercely demands a genuine emotional connection, and both remain stymied by choosing partners unwilling to commit. It’s a fascinating and discomfiting examination of the human condition, flawed but immensely watchable.
After Rabies (aka Kalevet) and this year’s Big Bad Wolves, Israel is turning out to be a rich wellspring of vibrant human horror.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine