Joe + Belle
Reviewing small independent films made by people just past their student years is difficult. The reviewer has to weigh the merit of holding everyone to the same standard versus the value of judging the film on a sliding scale based on the filmmaker’s experience. It’s an incredible accomplishment to finish a film, never mind getting it screened at festivals all over the world. That said, it’s pretty condescending to give the filmmakers a pat on the back and tell them how proud we are, saying, "How did you DO all of that?" They’re not kids who’ve just finished acting in a high school musical, they’re young professionals who have entered the fray. To use a baseball analogy, they’ve been called up to the big leagues. They’re going to get a brush off at the plate a couple of times.
Watching "Joe + Belle," it’s immediately evident that Veronica Kedar is a promising young filmmaker. The director’s first feature film boasts an acute understanding of young love, youthful despair and life as normal in a war zone. Unfortunately it lacks a cohesive tone. As a result, what should be a beautiful coming of age love story is mired at times by an unnecessary caper and bad situational humor.
We meet Joe (Veronica Kedar) just as she’s returning to Tel Aviv from a trip abroad. As she reenters her life, it’s clear that she isn’t happy in it. She’s stuck dealing drugs and she’s sick of her boyfriend, so sick, in fact, that’s she’s kicked him out. She seems to be the perfect picture of listless youth.
Then we meet Belle. We can see that this girl is in trouble even as she is freed from her stint in a psychiatric institution. Her mother greets her with a smile and then proceeds to tell her that their pet has run away. That’s more than enough for Belle to fall off the mental health wagon. She jumps out of her mother’s car and makes her way to the nearest rooftop where she intends to end it all. While up there, she spies Joe on the street and, for some unexplained reason, the sight stops her from jumping.
When Joe comes back to her apartment for the first time, she is alarmed to find a stranger in her bathtub. It’s Belle, who has now decided a razor blade in the bathtub will do the trick. It’s never clear if Belle knew she had broken into the apartment of the girl she saw from the rooftop which is pretty confusing but ultimately forgivable.
Joe tries to get Belle out of her apartment and her life but Belle doesn’t have anywhere to go. Joe is too kind to throw her out so she lets Belle tag along. And so it is that our heroes start their journey.
After a night at the bar, Joe wakens to find her pack of cigarettes empty. She leaves Belle sleeping on her couch and heads off to the store. That’s when things go wrong. Belle finds Joe’s gun and decides this will be her means should she decide end it all. She takes the gun and gets back under the covers on the couch. Unfortunately for him, Joe’s ex chooses that moment to come and get his records. After a brief screaming match, Belle shoots him. Uh-oh. Joe comes back to find the body. She takes the gun from Belle and, when her badly wounded ex stirs, finishes the job with a shot of her own.
Joe and Belle’s relationship deepens as they dump the body, flee the authorities and hide out in a hotel room where Joe finally gives into her urges . But the heat is on and the young lovers finally have to leave Tel Aviv, setting off to rocket-riddled Sderot.
Siven Levy is enchanting as Belle. Everyone who sees the film will fall in love with her. Ms. Kedar’s Joe is the perfect cynical counterpoint. She finds the line between hard-edged and vulnerable and rides it perfectly throughout.
The heart of the story is the budding love between the two women. The backdrop of a country accustomed to living with threat of rockets is incredibly powerful. With death all around, recklessness is expected and love is hard to believe in. And yet, these two do find love. It’s beautiful.
That would have been enough. There was no need to shoot someone to bond these two. By choosing to split time between the love story and a caper, "Joe + Belle" comes out missing the mark on both. It is a love story that could have stood on its own had Ms. Kedar believed in herself enough.
In baseball they call it trusting your stuff.
"Joe + Belle"