American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The nation of Israel is born in the late 1940s amid chaos while a mother expires along with her hopes for a better life. The story of both events will one day be shared with the world by her cherished son, who grows up to be a writer.
“A Tale of Love and Darkness,” a bleakly poetic adaptation of Amos Oz’s 2002 memoir of his childhood spent in Jerusalem also marks the arrival of a new filmmaker in the form of Natalie Portman, who stars and wrote the script.
Considering that the “Black Swan” Oscar-winner was born in Jerusalem, is from a family of immigrants, speaks Hebrew and is both an Israeli and U.S. citizen, it is little wonder that she connected so strongly to the material. Such devotion came in handy since it took nearly eight years to find the funding to bring this subtitled labor of love to the big screen. In the meantime, the actress married and gave birth to a son, Aleph, now five—milestones that likely enriched her heartfelt yet decidedly melancholic performance as a romantic dreamer constantly disappointed by her real-life circumstances.
Told in flashbacks and narrated by an elderly Oz, we first see Portman’s Fania comforting her restless pre-teen child as they share a bed. This once-privileged daughter of a Jewish European family, who now resides in a lower-class suburb after fleeing to Palestine after the Holocaust, suggests to her son, “Let’s make up a story.” And so begins a bonding ritual that ignites Amos’ still-developing imagination and allows both of them to escape their less-than-perfect circumstances. Unlike the washed-out palette of their everyday existence, these fables are brightly hued while featuring such figures as a dashing pioneer hero and brave silent monks amid scenic outdoor settings.