Regret. Always best to avoid it. For instance, old Jack here got trapped in the care home lift with Mad Maud for an afternoon the other week. And she’s not great on sphincter control when the windows are open. It took three days before I could smell again. But regret it?
Pfffft. Did I?
Well, kinda yes, now you’re asking, I nearly lost a nostril, but in general I don’t. I’ve lived life, taken many lovers, married a beautiful woman, good and true, and raised children. Who put me in a home. But it was a life lived.
Is That You? is a properly beautiful film about a man hitting sixty, losing his job and aching with regret. The love of his life, Rachel, got away some forty years before. He’s in Israel, she’s in America. So off he goes, popping to see his brother in Syracuse, borrowing an untrustworthy car, and hitting the road in search of Rachel. For her birthday approaches and they made a promise – no matter what – to be together on that day.
The film is a bit crap for fifteen minutes, but stick with it, for the remainder is light-touch perfection. Alon Aboutboul is Ronnie: grey, bearded, tousled and amusingly sad, but on a mission. The film is Israeli, which is where early subtitles make it oddly difficult to get into, then English and an American road trip take over. Aboutboul gives a hugely sympathetic performance; once you’re in his world, living after a lifetime as a projectionist, you’re a little bit in love. He brings a warmth to all his scenes, giving every moment an unexpected heart. Quite knocked old Jack’s cynicism to the floor.
Ronnie’s car breaks down and he is helped by Naruna Kaplan de Macedo as Myla. She is making an indie film within this indie film – about regret. She interviews Ronnie, gets the Rachel story out of him, his happiest face and his saddest face, then the movie starts proper. Myla takes him in her car to the next address.
Cue interspersed interviews. Myla has been making her film for a while, and we catch a range of folk telling their tales of regret. Some are bland: the love unchased, the sexuality undealt with until years have passed, the old married couple with the secret (different rooms in different cities – we laughed!). Some are spicier and crazier. Director and co-writer Dani Menken weaves the clips into the plot. Rachel has moved on from the first address, but the lesbians give a lovely interview; Ronnie and Myla are stuck in a motel, where initial grumpiness fades and they end up playing in the swimming pool (grandpa and his elfin friend), and the owner tells his story. Old Jack’s favourite was the policeman, all ready to ticket them, but jump cutting to his operatic dreams. Lovely stuff.
The sympathy that builds between Ronnie and Myla, affection without sexuality (like a defeated Mr Morgan’s Last Love (2013)), infuses every scene they are in together. When they part at the border to Canada, you feel the regret of their passing, as Myla heads off to face issues with her family, and Ronnie pursues the latest clue to Rachel. If only Myla’d had her passport.
SPOILER TIME, but, fuck it, you know how the film will go. Ronnie gets to the right town on the right night. There are scenes with strangers, all about hesitation and subtext and regret, that lead to Ronnie standing outside the window to the restaurant where Rachel and friends are celebrating. He goes in and sings a song to her. Suzanne Sadler as Rachel doesn’t disappoint: she’s vibrant and recognisable. Regret the missed years, embrace the moment, my dears.
This is a gorgeous film. Clunky at its start, but warm and companionable on its roadtrip. The interviewees reflect the audience, old or middle-aged, considering the things missed in life and – more importantly – the gentle ease of living with the silence. Aboutboul and Kaplan de Maceda make lovely friends, balancing dour with puckish. The story leads to a final sequence that brought tears to the TV room, for Ronnie’s journey had been worth it, and just in time.
Enjoy this on Amazon Prime.