‘Saving Neta’ examines Israeli female experience

Photo courtesy of Arcks Productions

In the humdrum of quotidian life, it is quite easy to lose track of oneself — to lose that sense of perspective on who one is and what one is capable of. Donning several different hats, catering to the demands of family, work and, occasionally, one’s own personal desires, one can feel overwhelmed and inadequate, forgetting that everyone else is likely experiencing similar struggles.

Screened during the 2018 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, “Saving Neta,” the newest film by Israeli director Nir Bergman (“Broken Wings”) explores this theme. The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which ran from Jan. 24 to Feb. 15, seeks to present films that explore the many colors of the Jewish experience and to expose Western audiences to uniquely Jewish voices.

Bergman’s film “Saving Neta” offers American audiences a look at the life of four women in modern day Israel. Formatted as an anthology, Bergman hops between the lives of Dalia (Rotem Abuhab, “Aviva, My Love”), Ruti (Naama Arlaki), Miri (Irit Kaplan, “Apples from the Desert”) and Sharon (Neta Riskin, “Shelter”).

All four strands are connected by each woman’s encounters with an enigmatic man named Neta (Benny Avni, “Wisdom of the Pretzel”). Each scene is punctuated by long, tranquil shots of a field, providing a reprieve from the events of each storyline.

Dalia is an officer in the Israeli army, training women to provide psychological evaluations of
enlistees who claim to be unfit for mandatory service. She also juggles the responsibilities of single motherhood.

On a particularly hectic day at work, Dalia dismisses her daughter’s complaints of stomach pain, simultaneously chiding her assistant for shirking her duties and overseeing trial evaluations with her students.

Dalia struggles to stay on top of her many tasks and breaks down in the middle of an evaluation when she receives a call from the school saying her daughter’s appendix burst.

Ruti is a lesbian cellist who is attempting to become pregnant via sperm injection. Struggling to balance her obligations to her orchestra, her conservative mother, her partner and her own conscience, Ruti chooses to miss her appointment for the sperm injection, fearing that she will not be able to have her child without knowing the father personally.

Miri is introduced to camping with her family as her husband attempts to gather the courage to tell their children that he is gay and that he and Miri will be splitting up.

Finally, Sharon is a New York interior designer back in Israel for her mother’s funeral. Her mentally challenged sister cannot comprehend their mother’s death and runs away from home the next day. Sharon is forced to find her and admit her into a special needs institution in time to be back in New York for her daughter’s bat mitzvah.

Neta is seen throughout various stages of his life, struggling to find his own way after a devastating breakup stripped him of his newborn child.

Filmed in a naturalistic, candid style with few frills and no soundtrack, Bergman’s film is slow and contemplative, focusing on the minutiae and silent moments of panic and comfort in each woman’s life. Sometimes, Bergman is able to produce a nuanced commentary on the nature of modern womanhood.

Caught between roles that can never all be fulfilled, the modern woman can often feel lost, held to impossible standards that conflict on a daily basis. In each vignette, Bergman seeks to hold a mirror to each woman’s face as she interacts with Neta, who is simultaneously trying to rediscover his own sense of identity.

In doing so, Bergman hopes to reconnect women with their sense of self — to help them realize that they do not need to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, but they are also not perpetual victims of the world’s supposed malice.

In one particularly striking scene, Miri is caught outside in the rain as her husband and children scramble from their camping site to their car. She sees Neta from afar, free climbing down a cliffside with a pack on his back that she remarks is “his entire life.” She yells at him to walk around the cliffside because descending it would be too dangerous. He silently obliges.

Bergman uses these scenes to emphasize the differences between how one views oneself and others. One may be able to see others with a perspective one would not grant oneself, then reevaluating and recognizing one’s own strengths
and limitations.

Admittedly, this analysis is not the most the original concept in media. The notion of recognizing the complexity and struggles of other people’s lives is one of those “Deep, man” ideas that most adolescents stumble upon at some point or another. The recognition and examination of the conflicting roles women must adopt has been tackled with greater nuance in works like Pamela Adlon’s “Better Things.”

Occasionally, some challenges that characters face, like the burdens of motherhood that crop up in each segment, seem to exist simply to serve Bergman’s allegory, appearing out-of-place and rather trite. Sharon’s entire character arc rests upon her one-sided resentment of her mentally challenged sister.

These clumsy character beats significantly weaken the film by detaching the film’s allegory from its characters. When the characters, whose lives viewers are immersed in, become subordinate to some message, the emotion that would cement Bergman’s ideas in viewers heads is undercut.

Still, for the modest goals that he has set for himself in “Saving Neta,” Bergman is able to offer enough feeling and thought for his characters to create an adequately affecting piece.

Even if Bergman’s narrative does not provoke all that much thought, at the very least his
patient, meditative pacing will immerse viewers in the quiet
trials and everyday ongoings of others’ lives so that, at least for a fleeting 90 minutes, they can forget their own.