Gay-themed Israeli drama 15 Years may have missed the theatres, but offers the cozy comfort of personal viewing

Watching something as quiet and delicate as 15 Years feels like reading a book. It feels personal. You want a one-to-one experience, not a shared one.

Baradwaj Rangan April 16, 2020 18:05:52 IST
Gay-themed Israeli drama 15 Years may have missed the theatres, but offers the cozy comfort of personal viewing

There were many films set for a theatrical release, and which are now going directly to the streaming space. In a Forbes article that came with a rather dramatic title, ‘Movie Theaters May Return, But Theatrical Cinema Might Not Survive’, box-office analyst Scott Mendelson wrote: “The coronavirus pandemic may hasten the grim future where movie theaters only exist for the very biggest blockbusters, franchises and cinematic tentpoles while everything else is produced for streaming platforms.”

He predicts that “the only thing that movie theaters can offer over Netflix or HBO is mega-budget/top-tier blockbuster spectacle delivered on a giant screen.”

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Otherwise, he argues, sitcoms like Friends and crime procedurals like Law & Order have been making cinematic comedies and cinematic cop dramas/legal thrillers redundant for decades. In other words, why would you go to a movie theatre to experience something along the lines of something you can already experience at home? Another “genre” (for lack of a better word) that falls in this category is the middlebrow drama targeted at adults. I’ve been getting screening links for such films, like Yuval Hadadi's Israeli drama, 15 Years, which revolves around a gay couple, Yoav and Dan.

In an early scene, they go to an art exhibition. The artist, Alma, is Yoav’s best friend. Yoav does not seem to be much of a socialiser, so he moves away from the crowd and stands in a corner. Alma sneaks up from behind and embraces him. The love they share is evident. Even his “You’ve put on weight” comment doesn’t faze her. She continues to beam. Then, when she’s called up to make a speech, she says, “Like every mother, this exhibit is very special to me, and I love it very much.” Oh, wait! So that’s it. The reason Alma has put on weight, the reason Yoav’s remark did not upset her — it’s because she’s pregnant.

Gaythemed Israeli drama 15 Years may have missed the theatres but offers the cozy comfort of personal viewing

A still from 15 Years

But later, Yoav says something that does upset her. Alma asks him if he wants to know more — say, who the father is, or even if there is a father. (She could have just had a donor.) He says, “I am not that interested.” These conversations continue throughout the film. “Why now” he asks her. She says, “If not now, then when?” She’s 42, like him. He’s sick of couples parading their children around. He’s sick of Facebook and Instagram posts of children. And yes, he’s sick of Alma’s pregnancy. “What do you want?” she asks him. “I want you to not be pregnant. Can you make that happen for me?” Ouch!

Naturally, there’s something beneath all this. It has something to do with a father who is comatose in a nursing home. It has something to do with a mother who lies buried in a graveyard, and whose grave he curls up and sleeps on. Look what he tells Dan, whom he’s been with for 15 years: “As far as I am concerned, a child is like a sand clock. Every birthday, another year passes. The child is five years old. I am five years older. I don't want to be attached to a child and live in constant anxiety for its well-being…”

The gayness is incidental. This could just as well be a hetero couple, with one of them wanting children and the other resisting parenthood. And we have seen films like that. But what makes 15 Years special is that there’s no big epiphany. The film is a series of small, incremental moments. There’s a fantastically “cute” scene early on when Dan comes over to Yoav, who’s seated, and pulls him close to his stomach. Dan then pulls his T-shirt over Yoav’s head, and it’s a terrific two-in-one visual. It’s intimacy between a couple. It also looks like Dan has… a baby bump.

Which leads us to the fact that Dan wants a child. At least, he wants to have a discussion about having a child, but Yoav just won’t listen. This is a sample conversation, after they learn about Alma’s pregnancy. Dan (excited): “We are going to have a baby running around the house. We better lock the kitchen cabinets.” Yoav (grumpy): “Or lock the baby in some cabinet.” It’s funny — until it isn’t.

15 Years is well-acted, well-made. It could have been a huge drama. But the director opts for minimalism. Yoav is an architect, and it feels like he designed the screenplay: the lines are simple, uncluttered, clean. But did I miss anything by watching it on my computer screen, instead of a theatre? As a critic, I have always maintained that any film, of any genre, is better on the big screen. There’s, first, the bigness of that screen. Then, there’s the bigness of the sound. Everything is amplified. So yes, ideally, I would have liked to have watched this film in a movie theatre.

But even assuming gay-themed Israeli dramas were being screened in Indian movie halls, I am beginning to feel some films are better watched in the intimacy of one’s home.

Watching something as quiet and delicate as 15 Years feels like reading a book. It feels personal. You want a one-to-one experience, not a shared one.

A Marvel movie, on the other hand, feels like it needs the energy of the people in a theatre, the shouts, the gasps, the general buzz. And that is finally why this home-versus-theatre viewing split will occur. It’s not because 15 Years doesn’t need a big screen. It’s because the film works well even on a smaller screen. Is it the end of an era? Perhaps. But as long as the movies keep coming, it’s all good, right?

15 Years is being released on DVD & VOD (iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu, FandangoNOW). 

Baradwaj Rangan is editor, Film Companion (South).

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