A Tale of Love and Darkness

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
A Tale of Love and Darkness Movie Poster Image
Portman's biopic of Israeli writer is earnest, ethereal.
  • PG-13
  • 2016
  • 95 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Argues that generosity and kindness are occasionally more important than truth: For example, when given the opportunity to compliment a host on her food rather than insult her, choose the former. In another instance, Amos discovers that his father's best friend has bought all the copies of his father's scholarly book. Empathy is a strong theme. Suggests the importance of storytelling and writing. Also a thought-provoking message about the logic of oppressed peoples becoming allies because they understand persecution.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Amos is a clever, sensitive, kind boy who loves his mother, reading, writing, and telling stories. He comforts his parents when they're sad or upset. Fania is a wonderful storyteller who tries to instill generosity and sensitivity in Amos. Arieh is intelligent and quiet and loves Amos and Fania.

Violence

Scenes flash back to WWII, to the forest where Germans killed thousands of Jewish civilians. In the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, there are scenes of people being shot and killed, including an innocent child and a supporting character. A character overdoses on pills and dies. A boy is ridiculed, pushed, and hit in the schoolyard.

Sex

A few marital kisses. A married man holds hands with a woman (not his wife) at a restaurant.

Language

"Damn," "hell" (subtitled).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink at social events. A woman with depression overdoses on pills.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Tale of Love and Darkness is a Hebrew-language adaptation of novelist Amos Oz' memoir about growing up in Palestine-turned-Israel after World War II. Natalie Portman, making her directorial debut, stars as Oz' mother, who was prone to depression -- mostly because she survived the war when so many of her family members died in the Holocaust, but also because the reality of Israel never lived up to her idealized dream of it. There's quite a bit of violence, including flashbacks to WWII atrocities and scenes of people being killed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In one sequence, a child is shot and killed while playing in the streets. A character commits suicide via an overdose. Several characters smoke cigarettes, and there's social drinking. There are a few scenes of a married couple kissing and one that suggests a husband is having an affair. Subtitled language includes "damn" and "hell."

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What's the story?

A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS -- Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman's directorial debut -- is an adaptation of Israeli novelist Amos Oz' same-named memoir about his boyhood in Israel to parents who lost their families in the Holocaust. At the end of World War II, Israel is still British-controlled Palestine, filled with Jews who escaped the atrocities of anti-Semitic Europe. Oz' (Amir Tessler) father Arieh (Gilad Kahana) is an aspiring academic, while his mother, Fania (Portman), is a fabulous storyteller who adores her sensitive son. As Oz grows up -- during the turbulent times surrounding creation of Israel -- his mother grows more and more seriously depressed.

Is it any good?

Portman's directorial debut sensitively and ethereally depicts the nuances of Amos Oz' upbringing alongside the creation of Israel. The Academy Award-winning actor-director is herself Israeli (she has dual citizenship) and fluent in Hebrew, and she obviously cares about the subject material -- Oz' childhood memoir and tribute to his mother, whose tales about her pre-WWII life in Rivne (now a part of Ukraine) fueled his love of stories. Portman delivers on her dual role as director and co-star (her large, expressive eyes are ideal for conveying a sense melancholy).

Tessler also does a fine job playing the young Oz, but A Tale of Love and Darkness is just as much about his mother and Israel's early days as it is about his own boyhood experiences. While splitting the time between two main characters makes sense, since clearly the stories are intertwined, occasionally you wish for a little more of Oz' complex mother, whose motivations and tragedies are unknowable, of course, because the story is told from her son's perspective. Those hoping for a broad look at Oz' life should know that the movie covers only a sliver of his life -- particularly the years between 1945 and 1952, when Israel becomes a nation and his mother battles the depression that ultimately claimed her life.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about A Tale of Love and Darkness as an adaptation of a biographical memoir. How does this "biopic" compare to most? Why do you think it focuses so much on the author's early life and relationship with his parents?

  • Discuss the movie's violence. Does realistic, war-themed violence impact viewers differently than stylized or cartoonish violence? Why might that be?

  • Which characters demonstrate empathy? Why is that an important character strength?

  • How is mental illness portrayed in the movie? Do you think it's sympathetic? Realistic?

  • What do you think the author means about two oppressed peoples, "cousins" if you will, fighting each other instead of banding together? What's the significance of the fact that Amos and the young Arab girl he meets know each other's language?

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