Or (My Treasure) (France/Israel; 100 min.)

directed by: Keren Yedaya
starring: Ronit Elkabetz; Dana Ivgy; Meshar Cohen
Mon trésor

Bruce says: "What happens when the child is forced to care for the parent? After all, that is what eventually happens to most of us. The tables turn. We tend to our aging parents, then in turn, our children care for us. But what if the time line is all screwed up? That is the essence of OR (MY TREASURE). Or (Dana Ivgi) is only sixteen but she is performing tasks that should not rightfully be required until she is thirty of forty years older. Most of the time Or is the parent; her mother, the child. Her mother Ruthie (Ronit Elkabetz) is an aging prostitute, still under the age of forty but over the hill professionally speaking. At night Ruthie hits the streets in heavy makeup, hot pants, heels and a tube top. Emotionally, Ruthie has never evolved. She can’t face reality. With her blotchy, sagging skin Ruthie wears baby doll lingerie and platform shoes. Her clientele is rapidly become less desirable and more dangerous.

"The film opens as Or is picking her mother up at hospital. The nature and extent of her medical problems is never revealed but we know that the least of her problems is a wicked yeast infection. The telephone has been cut off and the rent is overdue. Next month’s rent will be due shortly. Ruthie used to trade sexual favors with the landlord but he is no longer interested in that type of payment. Or is determined that Ruthie must get a day job. Ruthie is shocked to learn that Or has already set her up with an interview to be cleaning lady.

"Or herself is learning about her sexual side. Ido (Meshar Cohen), the boy next door, is madly in love with her and she lets him sleep over. Her mother is worried about whether the two teenagers are using condoms. His mother is worried about her son’s reputation. She has a heart-to-heart with Ruthie saying the relationship isn’t right. It seems that Or has already been pegged as being somewhat loose with her affections. Like mother…?

"Although Ruthie gets the cleaning job she finds it more difficult to get up each morning because the streets are beckoning her at night. Prostitution has become a way of life, an addiction. Ruthie can’t quit. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact nature of the addiction. Is it the sex itself, the temporary power over men, the need to be abused, the thrill of the score, the satisfaction of a winning negotiation, or the feeling of being young and desirable again? One night she arrives home bloodied and bruised from a client’s sexual excesses. Or puts her mother in the bathtub and gently washes her. It is a touching scene. Next, Or is locking her mother in the house to keep her home at night.

"How does a daughter deal with a mother who is out of control? Or seems to have her act together but as the story progresses, we realize that she merely has good coping skills not great inner strength. She overheard the neighbor lady telling Ruthie that Or was not a suitable girl for her son Ido. Until that moment Or had never considered herself comparable to her mother on sexual terms.

"One of the more interesting aspects of OR (MY TREASURE) is how accepting the friends, neighbors are of Ruthie’s profession. Everyone around knows the score. No one pretends otherwise or voices the slightest objection as long as Ruthie does not mix the professional with the personal. Of course, that rule was broken when Or and Ido appear to be getting serious.

"Prostitution was also the theme of the 2001 film THE HOLY LAND. A rabbinical student is deep in his studies of The Talmud when he wanders into a strip show and falls in love with a Russian prostitute. Many Russian girls now emigrate for Israel to find riches in the oldest profession; once they reach their financial goals, they return to Russia and to their former lives. It has become quite an industry. Strangely neither this film nor OR (MY TREASURE) offers much in the way of explanation as to how prostitution has become such a part of Israeli culture. Is this a new phenomenon or has prostitution always had a presence?

"Both Ronit Elkabetz and Dana Ivgi are wonderful, giving the film a spontaneous realism. As a director, Yedaya prefers that the camera remain still in most scenes letting the characters drift to the side, sometimes off the frame. She feels that is consistent with the subject matter. Society prefers to let people like Ruthie and Or drift from view. 4.5 cats"

Michael says: "For fans of bleak foreign films that make you want to slit your wrists when you’re finished, don’t miss this hard-hitting, powerful film by Israeli director Keren Yedaya. Or is a hard worker. She collects discarded recyclable bottles, goes to school, and works washing dishes in her neighbor’s restaurant. She uses the money she collects from her bottle returns to buy food for her mother, who is just being released from a clinic. This mother-daughter family is struggling to make ends meet on the sporadic incomes of Or’s job. Oh, Or’s mother Ruthie works as well: as a prostitute, and while her work can occasionally bring in some money, Or is doing everything she can to get Ruthie to quit the business. She even goes so far as to find her mother a job cleaning the house of a wealthier (an slightly eccentric) mother of a friend. The problem is, while Ruthie loves her daughter, and realizes her chosen profession tears Or apart, she doesn’t really seem to want to stop. To complicate matters, Or is quite popular with the boys, and is pretty sexually active. Then there’s her best friend and neighbor, Ido, who is clearly nursing a strong crush on Or. Yedaya plainly shows us the difficulties life throws at these two women, and some of the joys as well. But it’s all short lived, as we can tell from the tone of the film. And the film spirals toward an inevitable conclusion despite possibilities that convince us that things might work out all right.

"The central theme is cleaning. Or washes dishes industriously at her job. She furiously scrubs the apartment stairs after a fight with her mother. She tenderly bathes her mother after Ruthie suffers a particularly harrowing night at work. She washes the clothes in the bathtub while taking her shower. Ruthie, however, can barely muster any interest, or even energy to clean the home of her new employer, even when it could provide her a way out of the difficult life she leads, and bring joy to Or’s (her treasure) life. No matter how much Or tries to scrub the tawdry life her mother leads out of existence, the task it impossible for her to accomplish on her own.

"Ronit Elkabetz, so sublime (and worthy of her Chlotrudis Best Actress nomination in LATE MARRIAGE) is tragic and flawed in OR (MY TREASURE). Young Dana Ivgy is heart breaking as Or, struggling mightily against forces beyond her ability to control. Yedaya bathes her film in realism, and many scenes seem so raw, naked and personal that I felt uncomfortable viewing them. OR (MY TREASURE) is finishing up it’s Boston Jewish Film Festival: Encores & More run at the MFA this weekend, and I highly encourage you to go see it! 4 ½ cats."