Little Nadav is a Peeping Tom. At night, he wanders around his Tel Aviv neighborhood, looking through open windows for signs of life. He watches a woman make love, her perpendicular coitus interrupted when three Army officers ring her doorbell. She knows what they've come to tell her. She passes out. When she awakens, she quickly discerns that the Angels of Death have come to the wrong house.
And little Nadav watches his tempestuous Aunt Nina -- the beautiful young woman with whom he's in love. He writes dirty erotic stories about her that his guidance counselor turns over to his ne'er-do-well father, who calls Nadav "my sweet little shit pie." His mother is a clothing designer who'll see an outfit she likes and tweak it into her own style. His parents are separated, and since the split, his mother has become something of a nymphomaniac, with little time for her son.
He hardly sees his Dad, who's moved to a yeshiva, and who, when the movie opens, is actually dead. Later, as their lives unfold in flashback, Nadav goes to live with him, and they ride around town in a Star of David-topped van packed with bearded evangelicals, who stop at crowded corners to blast their music and dance a vigorous hora.
In Savi Gabizon's award-winning Nina's Tragedies, the events of Nadav's life move back and forth in time in a sort of orderly free association, and we witness all of its bittersweet vivacity through his watchful eyes. It's Ingmar Bergman meets Alex Portnoy, with a tone that moves gracefully from the darkly whimsical to the tragi-comic, and with a heroine who lives in a state of perpetual sadness that only deepens when her husband dies in battle.
Death permeates Nina's Tragedies, which should be no surprise in a film coming from a country so mired in bloodshed for so many decades now. Some of the death is natural, and some of it is not. But the suffering that goes with it is intensely intimate: It's the suffering of individuals for other individuals and for themselves, rather than the suffering of a culture for itself. And yet, it's that, too. For Nina's Tragedies are Israel's tragedies, and everything in Gabizon's film is at once both slice of life and metaphor.
When the rabbis roll Nadav's father off to his funeral, a wheel on the gurney that carries his body wobbles and squeaks. They repair it, but halfway to the cemetery, the trouble returns, as if there's no escaping it. And what do we make of Alex, a gregarious Russian played by the same actor who played Nina's late husband? This casting, which borders on the absurd, allows Gabizon a moment of almost magical realism -- one that reality later explains, and then, in a series of revivifying turns, becomes almost magical again. In Hebrew and a little Russian, with subtitles.