Synopsis: A single mother finds her promiscuity is challenged when she meets a young man passing through her village. The two embark on an intense relationship in a quest for fulfillment and learn that the path to love involves more than just sexual chemistry.
eyelights: its unjudgemental and unapologetic look at a woman’s promiscuity. its performances.
eyesores: its characters’ inscrutable emotional centers.
‘Ha-Notenet’ is a 2011 drama written, directed and starring Hagar Ben-Asher. It tells the story of a young mother in an Israeli village whose life of convenience is cast to the four winds when she falls in love with Shai, a veterinarian who’s just moved into her area. Soon she not only questions her choice, but purposely sabotages their bliss.
The picture is a slow-moving, mildly-ruminating affair that doesn’t let the audience into its characters’ emotional lives, keeping us at bay, as outsiders. Instead of providing us with insight into their minds through dialogue or narration, we are forced to observe the proceedings dispassionately, trying to piece together their motivations from scraps.
While that may seem challenging and unfulfilling, ‘Ha-Notenet’ is no less interesting: it’s one of those rare movies that permits its female protagonist to have a sexual identity that is nontraditional, to define it in her own terms, without being cast in judgement; Tamar is allowed to express herself sexually, to have complete over her body, without conditions.
She has sexual relations with a numbers of the villagers, sometimes for pleasure, sometimes transactionally, and none of the men ever claim ownership of her or her body. She also makes decisions about her own pregnancy, choosing when to become pregnant and when to terminate pregnancy without consulting the men involved. In some ways she’s a feminist’s dream.
This doesn’t mean that she’s entirely carefree and without fault, however. Ultimately, she is a very selfish individual; though she has a tremendous relationship with her two daughters, she leaves them alone to have her trysts, and risks Shai’s heart by choosing to maintain the comfort of her single life instead of breaking up with him as she should have.
Of course, no human being is perfect, and no such motion picture would be interesting with a flawless protagonist. It would just have been nice to understand what drove her to make her choices, and why she enjoyed her promiscuous lifestyle more than a loving, monogamous relationship. It’s not unjustifiable, but her motivations were far too inscrutable for my liking.
The same can be said for Shai, who falls for Tamar, asks her to move in with him, but allows her plenty of space, to return to her home when she needs to, and to take up lovers even though she is clearly lying about it. He loves her, yes, but there must be more to his acceptance of her. Sadly, we don’t know. And we certainly don’t understand his final terrible act.
Nor Tamar’s reaction to it.
Where the picture may be irritating to some, is the fact that there are consequences to Tamar’s action. In fiction, it seems as though no polygamous woman can have it all – she always has to pay for her sexuality. And ‘Ha-Notenet’ is no different. Though in truth it’s her disloyalty that brings about repercussions, many will attribute the outcome to her sexual choices.
Ben-Asher plays Tamar as dispassionate as the picture is; the young mother shows glimpses of happiness and tenderness, especially with her daughters, but is often muted emotionally. By the time that she begins to have second-thoughts about her relationship with Shai, she takes on a glum, worried or disconnected appearance – but still refuses to let us in.
Ishai Golan affords us more of a glimpse into Shai’s emotional life; as he becomes enamoured with Tamar, he also takes on fatherly duty for her two daughters, playing with them and caring for them. They bond quickly and he soon becomes a father figure to them. But again we aren’t allowed into his motivations by Ben-Asher, and Golan can do nothing to explain them.
The ending will no doubt shock and/or disturb most audiences. Though what drives a seemingly perfectly-grounded and benevolent person like Shai to commit this transgression is unexplored, the act itself is disturbing enough to leave a stain. And Tamar’s reaction as well, as she takes her sweet time instead of acting immediately to stop Shai from doing more harm.
And then, after getting revenge, actually comforts him.
That left me curious enough to want to know more about Ben-Asher’s intentions. The same can be said for the title, which is translated to ‘The Slut’ in North America. Was it a correct translation, or was the title bastardized for our market? It seems out of place to call Tamar a slut given that it’s a pejorative term and that the film itself refuses to judge her.
In any event, “Ha-Notenet’ is an interesting motion picture. With the right crowd, it would no doubt generate some meaty dialogues, perhaps even some heated exchanges, as Tamar’s values and virtues are discussed and debated. Though I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, given its approach and subject matter, it certainly has something to offer to select cinephiles.
Having said this, I wish everyone would take on Ben-Asher’s challenge to our preconceived lifestyle models. One may not agree with Tamar’s choices, but the judgment of women that still pervades our society should be stamped out. If a man did the same, few would question it or reproach him. But a woman is judged differently. In ‘Ha-Notenet’, Tamar isn’t.
And shouldn’t be.
That’s a welcome change.
Date of viewing: October 23, 2016