There is nothing in this life more tragic, more soul-crushing than the untimely loss of a loved one. Thankfully, we have developed faiths, routines and rituals to combat this understandable depression.
For members of the Jewish faith that ritual is known as “shiva” — Hebrew for “seven” — and it is the period of mourning following the death of a loved one. The mourners do not bathe, the mirrors are covered and the men refrain from shaving. Friends and family bring food to the home of the deceased and comfort the family. Shiva lasts for one week and once finished, life must return to normal.
But for Eyal (Shai Avivi) and Vicky Spivak (Evgenia Dodina) — the father and mother at the heart of the Israeli drama, One Week and a Day from first-time writer/director Asaph Polonsky — it’s going to take a little bit longer than a week to get over the death of their son. Neither is spiritually or emotionally equipped for what has befallen them and, like most, they disengage from one another and try to engage with the routine of the normal, which simply seems absurd at this point.
But Eyal doesn’t want to get on board. He wanders around the house in a dirty T-shirt, workout shorts and Birkenstocks, shoveling globs of food in his mouth and yelling at the neighbors for making love too loudly. When One Week and a Day played at last year’s Denver Film Festival, artistic director Brit Withey jokingly described Eyal as the “Israeli Larry David.”
It’s a fitting description, and not simply because of Eyal’s abrasive personality, but because of the cringing comedy that rises from it. The same is true of Vicky, who returns to her primary school teaching position armed with an unauthorized pop quiz. When she arrives, she finds the substitute teacher still working with the children and rudely dismisses him. Yes, she makes a scene and she doesn’t care. Why should she? Her face is etched with pain, the kind that makes others tread lightly around her.
People react in all sorts of odd ways while they are grieving, trying desperately to hold on to something that is ultimately arbitrary. For Vicky, it’s her quiz. For Eyal, it’s his son’s blanket, the one left behind at the hospital.
Much like Kenneth Lonergan’s masterful Manchester By The Sea from last year, One Week and a Day shows there is nothing tidy or confined about the grieving process. And not simply because both films deal with the crushing horror of losing a child, but because the survivors push back with the only weapon left to them: humor.
Nothing dulls the pain and pushes back the darkness quite like laughter and both movies find those moments, even finding a way to end their stories on an up note. Polonsky and Lonergan seem to agree: If we can’t laugh at all the little absurd moments that make up our lives, what can we laugh at?
On the Bill: One Week and a Day. May 31–June 3, The Boedecker Theater, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-440-7825, thedairy.org. Landmark Esquire, 590 N. Downing St., Denver, 303-733-0148, landmarktheatres.com/Denver.