It’s difficult to tell where the whimsy ends and the wistfulness begins in Dani Menkin’s Is That You?, an Israeli road trip movie set in the United States. After being fired from his movie projectionist job in Israel, the 60-year old Ronnie (Alon Aboutboul) takes his severance package and flies to America to find his ex-girlfriend Rachel (Suzanne Sadler) in upstate New York. When his rented car dies in the middle of the road, a documentarian named Myla (Naruna Kaplan de Macedo) agrees to fix his car if he appears in her documentary. She’s working on a film about regrets, interviewing elderly people about what life would have been like if they’d taken “the road less traveled.” Enchanted by his story, Myla tags along with Ronnie. They meet a cavalcade of eccentrics on their journey. In one scene they flatter a police officer out of giving them a ticket by filming him singing snatches of opera (insert White Privilege hot take here). In another they stay at a motel owned by a Western fanatic who proudly shows off his cowboy hat collection. While interviewing him for Myla’s documentary he reveals that, despite his wonderful life, all he wants is to disappear into the Old West. And in an early scene where Ronnie stops at one of Rachel’s old houses for her mail’s forwarding address, the owner beckons him to his stairwell and shows him seven framed photos of the seven women in his life. He sagely explains that each made him happy, at least until the next one came along. Nonplussed by this unsolicited monologue about life and love, Ronnie thanks him and leaves.
The whole film smells of forced indie quirkiness, from the melancholy soundtrack to the weird narrative asides involving the aforementioned eccentrics. The film is peppered with footage from Myla’s documentary, more often than not with its aspect ratio deliberately warped to oblivion. The film’s title “is that you?” becomes a ubiquitous mantra, painfully popping up almost every five minutes in the dialogue like it was written by an advertising executive trying to get their new company slogan off the ground. Finally, Menkin seems to draw parallels between the film and Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934), of all things. Nowhere is this more accurate than the scene where Ronnie finally locates Rachel at a party and crashes it. While everybody is toasting Rachel, he storms the stage and plays an acoustic guitar cover of The Man on the Flying Trapeze—the song immortalized in Capra’s film during a scene where Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert join in an impromptu sing-along on a crowded bus of strangers. I’m not sure what to make of Menkin’s symbolism. Both films feature a mismatched couple humping it across the backroads of America. But that’s about it. Do Myla and Ronnie represent Colbert and Gable?
Like so many other wannabe indie darlings, Is That You? attempts to make bold statements about loneliness and love beneath a thin veneer of calculated unconventionality. The film comes together in the third act, becoming pleasingly bittersweet and gently sad. But was it worth the road to get there? I’ll refer to Colbert for that one: “Believe you me, you bore me to distraction.”