ALL EYES OFF ME – Review by Jennifer Green

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The Israeli feature All Eyes Off Me, a 2021 premiere in the Panorama section at the Berlinale, feels like a very personal film. It might even blur some lines between fiction and reality. Writer-director Hadas Ben Aroya and cinematographer Meidan Arama take us up extremely close on a handful of Tel Aviv twenty-somethings as they talk about their lives, make love and party.

What the film lacks overall in story, it tries but doesn’t fully succeed in making up for with some visually memorable scenes and characters reciting lengthy monologues about past experiences.

Danny (Hadar Katz) is pregnant by Max (Lieb Lev Levin), but Max is obsessed with new girlfriend Avishag (Elisheva Weil), with whom he schedules a date to try out some rough sex. When Avishag is left with bruises, she seems turned off. After a night spent dog-sitting for a middle-aged client, Avishag tries to get intimate with the man, named Dror (Yoav Hait). Fat and pasty, Dror is both confused and enchanted by her advances.

In the first vignette, we follow Danny around a party as she searches for Max, ostensibly to tell him she’s pregnant. Shot in green hues with thumping background music and constant movement, the opening is a little disorienting. Danny stops to talk with friends about her pregnancy and one peer goes into a lengthy story about her own saga seeking an abortion.

Danny steps into a bathroom to find a pair snorting lines and is stopped on the dance floor for a long kiss with another woman. All the while, Danny seems detached. When she finally finds Max, she realizes he’s with someone new. She tells him a long tale of a time she fell head over heels for a guy in Berlin because he liked her shoes. We feel her disappointment about Max, a sentiment Katz gets across entirely through her eyes and the urgent way she tells her story.

In the second vignette, Max and Avishag have repeated sex. The scenes are explicit with full nudity and play out, in a very natural but also almost pornographic way, in real time. The pair also snort lines and talk about past relationships as well as their sexual likes and dislikes.

In the third and final chapter, Avishag makes herself at home in Dror’s house while he’s out (we see her peeing, stealing his wine, sleeping in his bed) then comes on to him when he returns the next morning. In between the two, we watch her watch an entire audition on the Israeli version of the X Factor on her phone at a park. Actress Weil plays these scenes very naturally, but you’re sometimes left wondering what the point is.

One piece of promotion about the film asks: “How liberated are we really?” This hints at a possible intention of the filmmaker and explains why the characters seem to move casually between romantic experiences with both genders and casual consumption of alcohol and drugs. But so much is left unsaid or unexplored here that the viewer would have to read a lot into the story and characters to take home very meaningful messages.

The film is also ostensibly about intimacy. However, it feels like a superficial intimacy based mostly on physical connection. We learn little about the characters’ lives, feelings and motivations. The endeavor leaves you a little empty as a result. Avishag is physically intimate with Max, but she seems emotionally detached. This makes her connection with Dror more interesting.

Some scenes will be visually memorable – Danny with glitter eyes slumped against a wall in a green-lit bathroom, Avishag and Max enjoying each other’s bodies in a sunny bedroom, Dror and Avishag lying together on the floor sharing a moment of silence.

All Eyes Off Me certainly shows the potential of its filmmakers and cast, but the characters here ultimately feel like people you’ve passed on the street – you’ve seen them, you might have been momentarily curious about them, but then you’ve moved on in opposite directions without another thought.

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Jennifer Green

Jennifer Green is a regular contributor to Common Sense Media, The Hollywood Reporter, The Seattle Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was Screen International's correspondent in Spain for ten years. She launched the newspaper column and website Films from Afar to curate international films available for home streaming. She has served on film festival juries across Spain and North Africa and teaches journalism and film to university students.