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The Summer Of Aviya  

Here is an unabashed, 100-watt melodrama, and it comes not from Hollywood, but from Israel. The Summer of Aviya, from 1988, has numerous elements that would be right at home in a big-budget picture: it is a story about a troubled yet not-so-troubled family, the protagonist is a child who is far too imaginative and cute for the world of average children, and her main goal is a search for a missing parent. And lots of things happen which are guaranteed to either tickle or annoy the audience. My verdict is that this film was rather enjoyable. A lot of this probably has to do with environmental circumstances. The last two films I viewed were dour French dramas, The Dreamlife of Angels, and Will It Snow for Christmas?, and The Summer of Aviya is far less cerebral and a lot more emotional. Right from the first shots, it is clear that there will be a mixture of sentiment and giddiness.

The setting is a few years after World War II, and Aviya has been staying for an undetermined amount of years at a boarding school, as her mother has been holed up in the hospital, apparently for some sort of mental issue. What is known is that her mother had been in a concentration camp during the war, so clearly this brought about her mental state. Aviya says on the narration that her mother never comes to visit her, and just as school is about to end for another year, she expects that to happen again. But suddenly, she appears, in a scene which demonstrates this films attempts at broad and cute humour, during a school play. The shock of seeing her mother is too much for Aviya, and so she loses her voice during a crucial musical number, causing laughter for the audience attending the play, frustration for the teacher, and embarrassment for Aviya. Aviya`s mother seems offended at the rigidity of the school, represented by the angry teacher, and pulls her out to return to her to the old village.

Now that Aviya is back at the old neighbourhood, she suddenly is faced with the need to have questions answered about her past. She clings to old, faded pictures of her father, and wants to know the truth about him. The mother says that he died during the war, and that's the end of discussion, but Aviya does not believe this, and when a new neighbour arrives in town, her imagination is inflamed with possibilities. The new neighbour seems like a classy sort, working as a banker, and certainly appears like the sort of man whom Aviya would like to be her father. She attempts in many ways possible to justify her belief, but things do not go as planned.

The story hinges upon Aviya's belief that this man is indeed her father, but other things occur which affect her, and they have something to do with intolerance. Of course, she is mocked by the other kids for having a crazy mother, and for just being the new kid on the block, but she is also attacked by others: a dance instructor and her mother. Aviya finds her way into one of Maya's, the dance instructor's classes, and really wants to be a part of it. But she is not dressed for the part, and the old mother sees this unpolished girl with contempt. Aviya's revenge is amazingly brutal, as she throws a stone at Maya's face, which requires surgery and the possibility of blindness in her left eye. What is interesting is, even though Maya acts as mean as her mother before her injury, Aviya tries to correct her wrong, and also, Maya turns out to have a good heart, and become a friend of sorts to Aviya, who visits her everyday at the hospital. It is evident that Maya's mother is the true enemy, conditioning Maya to hold an elitist attitude, even as Maya really does not want to be dictated by her mother. I'm not quite sure what the meaning of this sub-plot is, but it is suitably dramatic, and assists in the film's climax.

Another hidden element in the film is the apparent unsuitability of the mother to raise Aviya. She seems too angry and desperate to be able to raise a child. Before Aviya hurls the stone to Maya's eye, her mother loudly proclaims that Aviya run back to Maya's house and basically tell her what a bitch she is for not allowing her daughter to be in her class. And, to Aviya's embarrassment, her mother throws a birthday party for her, and when nobody shows up, essentially forces villagers to come in and enjoy themselves, dammit!

A lot of the points made in the film are rather fuzzy, which didn't entirely damage my enjoyment of the film. What is the relationship between the neighbour and the mother? Is he really Aviya's father, or is he someone else entirely? What exactly happened in the final scenes? Aviya doesn't really know the truth, but, then again, she is too young to understand, so our confusion is the result of experiencing the point-of-view of a young girl who is not mature or knowledgeable enough to understand the complex webs that adults weave. I sort of hope that the sequel, Under the Domin Tree, will answer some of these questions for me, but, overall, The Summer of Aviya was a nice little movie, with a suitably cute performance by the lead child actor.

David Macdonald

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