Nadav Lapid is a filmmaker to remember.
On the heels of the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, one of the festival’ acclaimed entries from the previous year made its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Kino Lorber. Ahed’s Knee shared the 2021 festival’s Jury Prize with Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria. Though completely different in tone, both films have a languid way about them that is both inviting and a little prickly, building to a satisfying crescendo.
Ahed’s Knee, by Israeli writer-director Nadav Lapid, is about a filmmaker having a personal, ethical, and professional crisis on the day one of his films screens at a small-town library. The director, simply named Y and played by Avshalom Pollak, arrives at the house he’ll be staying in for his trip and meets Yahalom, played by Nur Fibak. Yahalom is friendly and eager to make a good impression on Y, but she also works for the Israeli government and is armed with a form that dictates what Y is allowed to discuss during the Q&A following the screening. If Y doesn’t sign the form, he doesn’t get paid for his appearance. With a terminally ill mother and no funding for his next film, Y is on the brink of an existential breakdown, and this form might be the thing that sends him over the edge.
What follows is a series of lengthy conversations that would make Richard Linklater proud. The dynamic between Y and Yahalom drives the movie and sparks its most satisfying moments. What starts as light and slightly flirty gradually sours as Y becomes more cantankerous and Yahalom’s allegiances become clearer. They’re a fascinating pair, and Pollak and Fibak have a great rapport. Their physicality adds layers of subtext to the conversations between their characters. The weary look on Y’s face throughout the film is piercing enough to make you question if water is actually wet. He’s ready for confrontation and if you’re breathing, then you’re a potential sparring partner. For her part, Fibak’s Yahalom is just as intense, but she’s persistent instead of combative. Over the course of the film her smile goes from a source of warmth to a sign of desperation. Pollak gets to be more expressive where Fibak must be more nuanced, and the two performances combine to form a picture of a people and society crumbling under the weight of their oppressive government.
Lapid supplements his script’s pointed criticisms with a handful of effective visual gambits. These ostentatious bits include the camera suddenly switching perspectives and characters breaking into dance. For the film and characters, these moments feel like controlled chaos, a release of impotent rage. That rage builds throughout the film like a simmering pot. It starts to boil when Y recounts a story from his time during his mandatory stint in the military. It’s a harrowing story about one’s willingness to blindly follow orders from questionable authority figures, no matter the consequences.
Ahed’s Knee is a fiery film and Lapid an incisive filmmaker. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release is a bit light on supplemental features, with the only special feature being a conversation with Lapid. But the joy of this release is simply that it’s available to a wider audience now, and it’s a film worth seeking out.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of Ahed’s Knee is available now.