Decades before Israeli film hit its recent New Wavey stride, Amos Gitai functioned as its premier auteur; his omnipresence on the festival circuit made him the face of the nation’s cinema. That expressively rugged mug, coincidentally, is the single most compelling feature of his latest work, a live-or-Memorex? essay in which Gitai contemplates his past while traveling through Israel’s countryside. Things get Fellini-esque immediately: Gitai instructs actors playing his kids while real members of the brood drop by; actual letters written by his late mother are read aloud by her avatar (Mor) to a ginger-haired lad cast as li’l Amos; scenes from the director’s military service in the Yom Kippur War are staged as he watches stoically from the sidelines.
Gitai has never been shy about adding autobiographical elements to his dramas, which only underlines Carmel’s central irony: His most blatantly personalized movie feels like his least personal statement to date. Despite the family-album montages and cherry-picked childhood memories, this abstract look back says little about its creator or the Holy Land’s checkered history. When he drops the memory-lane aspects, the movie becomes even more ponderous, as low-rent reenactments of Romans invading Jerusalem and Jeanne Moreau’s raspy narration turn things from pretentiously sticky to downright stultifying.