An expectant father's agony over giving up his pathetic old car and his pre-fatherhood life forms a surprisingly touching story of life and change in "The Beetle."
By JOSHUA TANZER
So often, a car is a symbol for a man. Usually this means something super macho like Bullitt's roaring Mustang Fastback or Tony Soprano's barrel-chested Escalade. But in the case of "The Beetle," the car is a rather humble carapace around a rather humble man.
Yishai Orian is a rather lower-class resident of the Jerusalem area, as becomes obvious enough from his rickety yellow VW Beetle with its red junkyard replacement hood and barely working brakes. His pregnant wife, Eliraz, a month from giving birth, kvetches at him about junking the 40-year-old rattletrap. Objectively, she is undoubtedly right. Realistically, when the car doesn't start and an eight-months pregnant woman is the one who gets out to push it, she has earned the right to her opinion. But to Yishai, his wife has failed to properly empathize with the Beetle. It isn't just a bucket of bolts it's a keeper of memories. It's almost human.
|Directed by: Yishai Orian.|
Featuring: Yishai Orian, Eliraz Orian.
Cinematography: Yair Sagi.
Edited by: Shiri Borchard.
Music by: Tal Yardeni.
In Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.
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So Yishai goes on a video-chronicled search to reconstruct his Bug's life. Here, the film starts to become more than the typical "look, I have a camera and I'm making a movie about myself" documentary. Children have played in this car. Secrets once hidden in this car are still there decades later. A baby was born inside. A child with cancer was taken to chemotherapy in it, and kept living for several years if only for the love of riding in it when she got out of the hospital. Who knew that a little yellow hunk of scrap metal now worth $150 would yield such stories? Maybe Yishai did.|
Unfortunately, the stories are about to die with the car. Yishai takes it to the junkyard thinking to himself, "I am going to do something I will regret. This is probably the meaning of being a mature adult." These could just as well be the words of an American trading in his BMW two-seater convertible for a family-sized minivan. It's a surrender not of a car, but of a man.
At the last minute, he can't do it. Instead, he takes off for Jordan, where he's heard the mechanics work very, very cheap and know how to save a dying car. "This is my last action as a free man," he tells himself.
The journey takes him further and further away from birthing classes and delivery rooms, taxi cabs and cell phone towers, and toward the smallest desert village. It has, if nothing else, a mechanic.
It has some kind of slow, special magic as well. While he waits, Yishai befriends a little Arab boy in the town, and they do father-and-son things together. Yishai is convinced despite abundant evidence to the contrary, here in this desolate place that he has fled to, choosing the well-being of his car over the impending birth of his own child that he is going to be a good dad.|
In the end, "The Beetle" is a thing of considerable beauty. It begins like any other self-obsessed first-person documentary, but it just gets better and better.
"The Beetle" reminded me of another film that is (unjustly, I'd say) a favorite among documentary aficionados, called "Sherman's March." In it, an acutely introverted guy named Sherman visits his genteel southern family with a camera and chronicles his own deeply felt inadequacies as a son, as a lover, and as a man. It is bluntly, pathetically honest, maybe, but not actually good. Its glare does not illuminate.
But "The Beetle" is everything that people want to see in "Sherman's March." Where the earlier film has basically one note ("Look what a repressed fuck-up I can be and watch how I do it"), "The Beetle" is full of glorious, contradictory humanity. Yishai openly struggles with himself. On the eve of the most important event of their lives, he has chosen to go be alone with his car instead of his wife. He know's he's wrong but he can't stop himself. Giving it up his almost-worthless car, his last shred of independent manhood pains his soul. It's a feeling that any new father might face, but told with the help of a strikingly individual talisman such a meager little car on such a mesmerizing journey.
|JUNE 14, 2009|
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